(Investigator 151, 2013 July)

Arthritis refers to any disease or disability in which there is inflammation in a joint. Frequently the expression "rheumatism" is used as synonymous with arthritis but, strictly speaking, it is a more general term referring to pain and inflammation not only in the joints but also in non-articular connective tissues either in localised areas or throughout the body

The length of time that man and other creatures have been plagued by this crippling disease has been evidenced by unmistakable signs of osteoarthritis in the skeleton of a Neanderthal man dating from about 40,000 B.C., and in dinosaurs of the Mesozioc period.

A principal cause of arthritis is the invasion of bacteria into the joints. The pus produced in response to infection erodes the cartilage which covers the ends of the articular bony surfaces. In the absence of any ability to regenerate after sustaining damage, such infections can cause serious and permanent harm. Fortunately, the condition responds well to modern antibiotics, but where antibiotic therapy may be insufficient as in the case of tuberculous arthritis, surgical fusing of the joint may be required as well.

More serious and poorly understood is the degenerative joint disease called osteoarthritis. When the degeneration of the articular cartilage becomes advanced, large areas of the bony surface may become denuded of cartilage.

Bony projections may also grow out from the margins of the bones and cause mechanical interference with motion.

Due to the large numbers of people that suffer from one or other of the nearly one hundred variations of the disease, and the concomitant problems associated with its diagnosis and treatment, it provides a fertile field for quacks and charlatans.

Popular recommendations are copper bracelets and magnets, heat machines, vibrators and whirlpool baths all of which are useless. Lotions, creams, oils, liniments, vitamins and minerals, vaccines, hormones and the venom from snakes, bees and ants are also popular, and although in some cases may produce a temporary soothing effect, hold no greater potential.

Arthritis is a crippling disease, it can strike at any age and last a life-time. Much of its pain and disability can be alleviated however, through early diagnosis and a well-designed programme of medication, special exercises, rest, and other measures prescribed not by gadgetmen or health food shop assistants but a well-trained physician.


Benzaia, D. The Misery Merchants. In Barrett, S. (Ed.) 1993. The Health Robbers, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York.

Gray, D. 1985. The treatment strategies of arthritis sufferers. Social Science and Medicine, 21:507-515.

Jarvis, William T. 1990. Arthritis: folk remedies and quackery. Nutritional Forum 7:1-3, January/February.

Barrett, S. et al. 1990. The mistreatment of arthritis. In Health Schemes, Scams and Frauds, pp.112-130. Consumer Reports Books, New York.

Panush, RS. 1984. Controversial arthritis remedies. Bulletin on the Rheumatic Diseases 34:1-10.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics