Arthritis is a major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, with 3.8 million Australians affected and costing the economy more than $23.9 billion each year in the medical care and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and lost production. As the population ages, the number of people with arthirits is growing. According to leading researcher Access Economics, current trends suggest that, by 2050, 7 million Australians will suffer from some form of arthritis.
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not a normal part of ageing; about 2.4 million people suffering from the disease are of working age. Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease, whereas in fact it is an umbrella for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, in particular the joints where two or more bones meet. Arthritis related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage and surrounding structures. This can then result in joint weakness, instability and deformities that can interfere with the most basic daily tasks such as walking, driving a car and preparing food.
There are about 100 forms of arthritis, the three most significant are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. These account for more than 95 per cent of cases in Australia. Other common forms of arthritis are ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), and scleroderma. Arthritis is not yet curable, the condition can be manageable via exercise, shoe and footwear modifications, mobilisation, and diet.
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