What You Need to Know
Arthritis literally means inflammation of the joint (“arth means joint and “itis” means inflammation). As the leading cause of disability in the US - and known for more activity limitations than any other chronic condition - the disease impacts over 50 million Americans. Due to our aging society, this number is expected to climb to over 67 million by 2030.
But, it is a complex musculoskeletal disorder that also impacts young people. Two-thirds of the people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. There are many different types of arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
When joints become inflamed they develop stiffness, swelling, pain, decreased range of motion, and redness. In many cases, the inflammation can cause irreversible damage to the impacted joint.
The causes of most forms of arthritis are still unknown. It is still unknown why some develop arthritis while others do not - and why some parts of the body are afflicted and other parts are not.
Most CommonTypes of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis – (OA- or Degenerative Joint Disease): OA is the most common form of arthritis and is a result of trauma, overuse or infection of a joint. It tends to be age-related and occur in elderly people.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). RA is an inflammation that attacks the thin membrane that lines the joints, causing fluids to build up in the joints, and it can occur throughout the body. This is thought to be an auto-immune disorder where the immune system attacks its own body. This type of arthritis impacts all ages and even children can get RA.
Some risk factors are unavoidable but there are a few that you can control:
- Age – The risk of developing most types of arthritis increase with age
- Gender – Some types of arthritis are more common in women; with Gout being more common in men.
- Genetic – There are specific genes that are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis.
- Injuries to the Joints –Injury to a joint can contribute to osteoarthritis
- Being Overweight – Being overweight can contribute to the onset and progression of osteoarthritis in the knees.
- Infection – Microorganisms infecting joints can potentially cause some forms of arthritis
- Repetitive Activity – An occupation that requires repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints and depend on the type of arthritis. Depending on which kind of arthritis you have, you may experience joint pain on one side only or both sides:
- Joint pain
- Decreased range of motion
Your doctor will check for the above mentioned symptoms and may ask for the following tests. Laboratory tests- Different types of body fluids can help determine the type of arthritis. Therefore blood, urine and body fluids may be analyzed. Imaging- X-ray, MRI, CT, and Ultrasound tests may be used to see the inflammation and/or the extent of damage to the affected joint.
A lot of people believe there is nothing that can be done about arthritis, but relief is possible and new treatments are presently under study. Since there is no way to reverse osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the goal is to relieve symptoms and improve joint function. A combination of treatments may work best for you. It is very important to take an active role in the management of your arthritis and know what your treatment options are.Treatments will vary depending on which type of arthritis a person has. See your physician to determine which types of self-help treatments will be right for you before attempting any of these since some can make certain types of conditions worse.
- Physical Activity/ Exercise is important even though it may cause pain in moving the affected joint. It is also valuable in fighting against arthritis. Exercises that consist of endurance and resistance offer the most benefits.
- Heat and/or Ice- Hot or cold packs may relieve the pain
- Weight Management- four pounds of pressure are taken off each knee with every one pound of weight loss! If you are overweight, see tips for better weight management.
- Medications – relief from the pain of arthritis can be as simple as taking over the counter (OTC), medications as directed. These treatments might be in the form of a pill, cream or spray. For more severe pain a doctor can prescribe medication. Talk to your doctor about the right treatment for you. Examples of some of the medications used to control the symptoms of arthritis are:
- Acetaminophen- treats pain
- Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs- treats both pain and inflammation
- Narcotic Painkillers- relieves pain
- Corticosteroids- injections to temporarily relieve osteoarthritis pain or can be taken orally for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
- Hyaluronic Acid - used in knee osteoarthritis by injection, lubricating the joint
- Anti-Rheumatic Drugs- slows the progression of rheumatoid arthritis
- Diet- foods containing sulfur compounds, such as broccoli can help relieve inflammation. Recent studies are stating broccoli may help to prevent osteoarthritis
- Massage - some people find relief from therapeutic massage
- Physical therapy- strengthens the muscles surrounding joints and improved range of motion
- Surgery- joint replacement or fusion is usually the last option
- Self-Help for Pain Relief – See alternatives to pain medications
- Arthritis Friendly Products - If you have arthritis, daily tasks can become painfully difficult. Arthritis friendly products will help make day to day tasks less painful on arthritic joints. The Arthritis Foundation has created a program encouraging manufactures to design products with “Ease-of-Use” in mind. Examples of Arthritis Friendly Products:
- Special eating utensils
- Elastic or Velcro shoelaces
- Electric jar or can openers
- Hand or foot warmers / massagers
- One-touch table lamps
- Electric toothbrushes
- Reaching aids
- Long-handled brushes and combs
- Assisting devises- canes, walkers, raised toilet seats may improve quality of life
- Door levers instead of door knobs
Arthritis can be treated and it is even possible that a person can prevent the disease. Learn more at the Arthritis Foundation.