Early Symptoms of Arthritis

Early symptoms of arthritis is a complex subject, so there's a long page ahead of you; settle down with a nice, hot drink, or come back later.

You have been diagnosed with spondylosis of the joints, perhaps. So, what’s so unusual about that? Everybody eventually gets it, isn't that right? It’s like grey hair.

Or is it?

Here below you can see incurable but very treatable wear and tear of the tiny joints in the neck that may be the underlying cause of carpal tunnel syndrome or a frozen shoulder, for example. This kind of degenerative change often causes tingling in the arms and hands.

Responding in this way to a friend who anxiously tells you they have arthritis may sound like a crass statement and, yes, it is. It’s a reaction to a very poorly worded diagnosis. It’s about as vague as telling someone they have lumbago. There are hundreds of causes of low back pain, from extremely serious, like cancer, to a little tiny ache periodically.

Lumbago is a meaningless term, and really the word arthritis is too.

Why is that? Because there are over 100 types of arthritis and many of them are quite different.

Osteoarthritis, gout and Paget’s disease are all forms but they have very little in common, except that all three affect the joints.

Very often we are faced with a condition that really should be called arthrosis, not arthritis; the early symptoms are quite different. Why is that? Because there is no inflammation.

And that's why anti inflammatory medication doesn't help.

Getting the joint moving again, thus increasing the synovial fluid flow in the joint, and rehabilitating the surrounding tissue is what will relieve the pain and disability associated with osteo arthritis in the neck associated with the cervical facet syndrome, for example.

The early symptoms of arthritis, probably all forms, invariably will include first pain and later, as it becomes chronic, stiffness. An ounce of prevention is what it's about.

Highly regarded medical journals report strong research that people who eat vitamin C rich foods are three times less likely to get arthritis. 

What is the place of xrays in the diagnosis of the early symptoms of arthritis?

It is widely acknowledged that in early rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, for example, before there's any bone damage, that xrays are likely to be insensitive to the soft tissue damage.

In these two types of arthritis, blood tests and MRI and ultrasound scans are far more effective in testing for the presence and progress of any disease process.

And so it is with osteoarthritis. The artfully done physical examination yields far more information about the impending disaster, even when xrays looking for bony changes are quite normal.

Early symptoms of arthritis

Whilst the early symptoms of arthritis are discomfort and stiffness in the neck, the early signs are loss of the normal curve in the neck and sclerosis as seen the C4-C5 facet joint below. Just because it's common, doesn't mean it's normal. It confirms that discomfort and often headache that you are experiencing.

Why is it so common? Because frankly few escape whiplash injuries of the neck, be it car accidents, falls skiing or from horses, tripping on the stairs or a blow to the head.

Low back pain

The low back contributes enormously to arthritic sufferers, and much of it can be prevented. How? Watch for the early symptoms of arthritis.

  • Firstly, just a simple set of exercises, done faithfully every morning before you leap out of bed. They take only one minute. Lower back exercises
  • If you have a short leg, wear a heel lift. It's so simple to prevent the early and later symptoms of arthritis associated with a leg length inequality. Leg length inequality … and how it causes arthritis.
  • An untreated disk herniation results in loss of disc space, and ultimately you have bone grinding on bone. Food to avoid with arthritis is irrelevant in this situation. Having that bulging disc reduced (with chiropractic, of course!) is what's important.

Sacro iliac joint

Sacroiliac Joint Treatment and mobilisation of Sacro-iliac joint (SIJ) fixations will help prevent the most common wear-and-tear arthritis from developing. Early symptoms are pain and stiffness.

More difficult are the inflammatory diseases like ankylosing spondylitis that has a fondness for the sacroiliac joint.

Arthritis pain in knee

In a break-through study in the Netherlands, researchers found that unloading the knee with advanced osteoarthritis using an external fixation device (for two months), increased the synovial fluid flow through the joint resulted in dramatic sustainable improvement after the device was removed. Pain was reduced from 80% to 8% and function improved just as dramatically. Again, early symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness.



It’s perhaps useful to think of two distinct kinds of the arthritis; the early symtoms are usually quite different.

  1. That which affects a single joint (for example, a shoulder joint like the AcromioClavicular Joint ) or a few joints close together (such as in the neck), and
  2. Those forms that are systemic, meaning they can affect many joints and even other organs.

For example GOUT may affect the great toe (classically) and other joints far from the toe, like the shoulder. Some forms of these whole-body arthritides, quite distinct diseases, also affect the organs. They can change the skin, the kidneys and the heart, for example, … almost any and every organ system in the body.

The crippling pain that a child might get with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (systemic) is light years away from the painful degenerative arthritis knees that the obese get.

It’s also from a quite different planetary system to Immobilisation Arthritis, now proved to be the most common form of Osteoarthritis, which mostly responds very well to chiropractic.

Where is all this leading us in our discussion of the early symptoms of arthritis? It’s probably true to say that straight chiropractic can’t do much to help in the treatment of the systemic arthritides, except in a general sense, by keeping the body in harmony with itself through gentle adjustments, stretching and exercises. Fortunately the systemic arthritides are relatively less common.

But if you have an attack of extreme pain of arthritis in feet especially in your great toe, and it becomes swollen, red and hot, then for heaven's sake go to your medical doctor first, not your chiropractor. The inflammatory changes of gout are best managed medically.

"Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey."

Marcel Proust

Osteo-Arthritis (OA) and
Immobilisation Arthritis (IA)

But the most common form is called Osteoarthritis, and a major subdivision of it called Immobilisation Arthritis; it's what we chiropractors work with day in and day out. The early symptoms of arthritis are our bread and butter, and chiropractic is probably the best form of treatment for localised painful and stiff joints, because mostly it’s not inflamed. It's really an arthrosis, not an arthritis.

Once those early symptoms of arthritis are allowed to become chronic then any hope of a cure dwindle, and you are likely to develop advanced arthritis and regular chiropractic treatment will probably be your lot.

Chiropractic help

Chiropractic help is the treatment of choice for the non-inflammatory types of arthritis, but really it has little to offer in the care of rheumatoid or gout.

Anti-inflammatories are not the treatment of choice – getting the joint moving again is, and that’s what chiropractic excels in. Keeping the joints moving, increasing the synovial fluid flow in the joint, and then exercising the joint is what Chiropractic is about.

Eating healthily is what ensures the joints are bathed in the the fluids containing the right ingredients. And yes, there are some food to avoid with arthritis - more about that later.

Not smoking is what ensures that the synovial fluid contains enough oxygen. (Smoking reduces blood oxygen by up to 20%)

Old age is not something we should dread, and healthy aging is what comes to those who make the RIGHT CHOICES ...

"You're never too old to become younger."

Mae West

To be honest though, much of health remains a mystery. Why do people who obviously try to make the right choices still get sick? We just don't know yet. Genetics, environmental toxins that we don't know about, side effects of drugs and many others. None of us choose to be rammed in a car accident either - something that can ruin an otherwise healthy life. Whiplash is the most common cause of arthritis in the neck. Whiplash Chiropractic ...

Whilst much remains mystery, much is also clearly understood. Exercise the body, consider new ideas to stretch your mind, feed the spirit, an apple a day; it does keep the doctor away. The chiropractor too! It's now beyond debate. What we eat, and don't but should eat, has a profound effect on our joints. Are you getting enough allicin benefits in your diet? Probably not.


What do all forms of this large group of disease have in common? They affect the hyaline cartilage that covers the ends of bones. This cartilage makes it easy for bones to articulate easily with a neighbour. It is white, hard and very smooth, with a glistening look about it. Does that interest you? Next time you have leg of lamb for dinner, before you throw the bones into a pot to make a broth for your next soup, cut open the joint and take a good look. It's fascinating; the cartilage is like highly polished marble. Believe it or not, its slip index is lower than ice on ice.

But when the joints degenerate, this cartilage becomes rough and pitted. Then come the early symptoms of arthritis; stiffness first usually, and then pain as the disease progresses.

Professor Bijlsma, a feted Netherlands academic, admits that in the early stages of osteoarthritis there is a marked discrepancy between the early symptoms you may be experiencing and what's seen on radiographs.

In clinical terms, this translates into pain and stiffness as the fixated joint, for example in the neck after a whiplash injury, starved of nutrients, begins to complain; but nothing is seen on the xray. Or, as we say in scientific lingo, radiographs are likely to be insensitive in patients with early osteoarthritis following trauma.

Again, the early symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness.

And so the diagnosis is made. Your doctor tells you there is nothing wrong; all you need is some painkillers and perhaps a massage. He's not up on the latest research. You are developing immobilisation arthritis. Do nothing and you will soon have a very stiff neck and the threat of arm pain from a pinched nerve. This is not a silent disease like diabetes; you know there's something wrong and you're right.

As the famous Eliza Doolittle said, just you wait, Henry Higgins. Only then, if the fixation is not released, do the early symptoms of arthritis turn into the advanced degenerative joint disease we so often see on xray ten years later after a whiplash accident.

Prof Bijlsma went further to admit that placebos has been the most effective medical treatment they have found for osteoarthritis in many scientific research studies.

Chiropractic can do better than that. There is plenty of strong research proving that an adjustment of the joint is what will reduce the pain and stiffness, together with some good rehabilitation exercises so that you don't need to run off to your chiropractor twice a week for the next ten years.

Exercise class benefits early symptoms of arthritis ... advanced arthritis too.

Many studies involving thousands of sufferers have concluded that exercise benefits those who suffer from both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, improving function and lessening pain. Whilst most of these studies have been done on the knee, the principles apply to all joints.


ANKLE EXERCISES to prevent degenerative joint arthritis in foot and ankle after a badly sprained ankle, for example.

Food to avoid with arthritis

Here in the main we are looking at processed foods. Yes, eating as your grandmother did, as veteran heart surgeon Dr Dwight Lundell recommends, does take more time; for me, I'd rather spend the time eating healthily, than visiting doctors.

The big ones are white flour products, which is just about everything in breads, bagels, cakes and cookies, and white sugar which is in just about everything else. No wonder we have so many inflamed and angry joints, muscles and organs. In his lecture on foods to reduce inflammation, Dr Lundell was talking about the inner lining of blood vessels that appear ever more inflamed.

The big one to avoid are, oddly and unexpectedly, are polyunsaturated oils, and that means a change to olive oil.

Food to include with arthritis


The well known scientific journal Nature reports that olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory that has a potency strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen. Both these oleocanthal and ibuprofen inhibit the same cyclooxygenase enzymes that cause the early symptoms of arthritis and joint inflammation.

For more information about the benefits of olive oil, and a fun short story click here for OLIVE OIL BENEFITS ...

Eugenol in sweet basil

What we are suggesting here is do everything in your power to increase the natural anti inflammatory substances in your diet. My absolutely favourite herb, sweet basil, contains a scientifically proven substance called eugenol that is also a cox inhibitor. Sweet basil grows like a weed in the garden, and we make our own pesto in just five minutes right through the summer. It's better than pain, and better than a hole in the stomach. Delic.

Anti inflammatory chili

Anti inflammatory chili and extra virgin olive oil will indeed help with those forms of arthritis like gout and rheumatoid; it's the capsaicin.

If you are suffering from the early symptoms of arthritis then it's certainly worth adding fresh anti inflammatory chili on a daily basis to your diet. We have it every day for breakfast in our eggs Florentine; just a slither.

Capsaicin in jalapenos

The chili family contains a strongly anti inflammatory substance called capsaicin; it's also used as a painkiller. Yes, it's the heat in chilis, found mainly in the white pith called the placenta; the part that holds the seeds when you split a pepper. Lightly blanched takes the edge of your jalapeno; have one every day with your salad. How to grow chilis; the bright red fruit makes a beautiful plant in your regular flower bed. Do stake them though; when they are loaded with fruit the branches will sag and perhaps break. More about anti inflammatory chili.

Omega 3

fatty fish, flaxseed and pecans

Omega-3 is what we all need more of in our diets.

A high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is inflammatory, and often the underlying cause of the early symptoms of arthritis. 

So increase the anti inflammatory omega 3 foods regularly in your diet. Not in pill form; in your food, and decrease the omega 6 oils.

It's so easy to add a tablespoon of freshly ground flax seed to your cereal every morning. Grinding flax seeds is simple; and cheap.

Walnuts and pecans nutrition are also good sources of omega 3 and the vital gamma tocopherol form of vitamin E.

What causes these degenerative changes in the joint cartilage? Hundreds of causes, and they need to be managed in quite different ways. It could be injury, a fall, fracture, whiplash ... it could be infection, a bug ... a short leg ... obesity ... and in the case of gout what is needed is medication to lower the uric acid in the blood. Gout is one of the most treatable forms of systemic arthritis.

Healthy Flour

Could hydrogenated foods and margarine have an effect on arthritis? We just don't know, but we do know they are bad for you. For years I was slightly apologetic for recommending butter, but no longer; a new meta analysis of 80 research projects concludes there is no scientific basis for you to change from butter to margarine. In short butter is back and you can certainly again enjoy your low GI bread. You do need to be serious about your health though to go the next step and grind your own healthy flour. Millers can still call it "wholewheat flour" provided no more than 40% of the content has been removed.


It's now widely accept that fish oil is no only good for your memory, your heart but is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. There is food to avoid with arthritis and there is very definitely food to include. So, fish oil for your arthritis too. But just how much ...? HOW MUCH FISH OIL ?

Joint fluids

What you can’t see in Mary’s little lamb’s hip (sorry, that’s in poor taste!), is that the joint is bathed in a fluid. It is this liquid that feeds the cartilage, and the most common form of OA is called Immobilisation Arthritis (IA), when this fluid is not adequately replaced by the body.

We are now discovering that IA is not the same as OA, which is really a wear-and-tear disease, though the end result is the same when seen on an x-ray. But under a microscope, at a cellular level, the changes are quite different. A huge amount of research has been done on IA, but little of it finds its way into the popular literature. It’s just dumped in with OA, and assumed to be as inevitable as grey hair. Not so! Read more about Immobilisation A, the most common form of degenerative joint disease, click here. CHIROPRACTIC SUBLUXATION ...

Shoulder arthritis

Oddly, one of the premier arthritic joints is not a weight-bearing joint (like the hip) but in the shoulder. A little hinge joint, called the ACROMIO-CLAVICULAR JOINT is a primary cause of shoulder pain. For more about the AC-joint and shoulder pain, click here. ACROMIOCLAVICULAR JOINT ... the early symptoms are difficulty raising the arm.

The AcromioClavicular joint is very important factor in

Knee Arthritis and Exercise

Interesting research from Melbourne, Australia confirms that walking actually increases the volume of cartilage in the knee. What this 14 year study confirms is that we should not fear exercise, but rather should grasp it whole heartedly. It actually reduces arthritis.

The real enemies of joints are a sedentary existence and a poor diet. Are you a couch potato, and still on a black and white diet? Pain, lots of it, and deteriorating health will soon greet you enthusiastically. You, though, may not be so happy. Read more about knee arthritis and exercise.

What, if anything, can chiropractic offer to the patient suffering from serious arthritis pain in knee? Would you be satisfied with 50 percent less pain and disability instead of the expense and risk of total knee replacement? Then consult your local chiropractor.

Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs are potentially dangerous at the best of the times, even when used in the sensible and lawful manner. When used with Pfizer's devious and dishonest labeling, the food and drug administration found it worth 2.3 billion dollars in damages.

Read more about Pfizer Bextra; that's the name we associate with gross drug company fraud.

Interestingly, this morning, I listen to Dutch radio, there is a general notification in the Netherlands that if you are taking over the counter anti inflammatory drugs you must notify your doctor because of potential strokes.

In particular, taking two different medications, say brufin and aspirin, is especially dangerous.

Neck arthritis and headache

Health care is full of "incidental findings." Things significant, but not the cause of the problem. Neck arthritis is one of them.

Lumbar spondylosis casefile

One of the earliest symptoms of arthritis are often felt in the lower back and hips; see how this elderly patient responded to chiropractic care.


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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost painfree. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.