Arthritis is a medical condition that many of us have heard of and often we know somebody who struggles with it. Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more of the joints with pain and stiffness being the main common symptoms. Arthritis is a condition that can impact many of the joints in the body and a condition that carries many different types. In this Health Journal, we’ll break down what arthritis is, some of the symptoms and causes of it, and how you might be able to find some relief.
What is it?
As we discussed above, arthritis is a disease that affects your joints (areas where your bones meet and move) and usually involves inflammation or degeneration of the joint. These changes often cause pain when putting the damaged joint to use. Arthritis is most commonly seen in the following areas: feet, hands, hips, knees, and lower back.
Since arthritis affects the joints, it’s important to understand what they are and the role they play. A joint is the part of the body where two or more bones meet to allow movement. Joints get cushioned and supported by soft tissues that prevent your bones from rubbing against each other. The shape of the joint depends on its function and generally speaking, the more movement that is possible through a joint, the higher risk of injury. The greater range of movement reduces the strength of the joint.
Arthritis is also the most common cause of disability in the U.S. with about 50 million adults and 300,000 children managing some form of it.
Symptoms and Causes
Arthritis encompasses many different types that also have many different causes. For some types like gout, it is the result of too much uric acid in your body, but for other types, the exact cause is unknown. You’re at a higher risk of arthritis if you have a family history of it, have a job or play a sport that puts repeated stress on your joints or have certain autoimmune diseases or viral infections.
The risk of getting arthritis increases with age, as you are more likely to get it as you get older. It is also seen more commonly in women than in men and also seen more in those who are obese since the added weight adds stress to the joints.
Arthritis and its symptoms are like many conditions and varies from person to person, with some suffering from mild issues while others suffer in a more severe way. Common symptoms of arthritis include: pain, redness, stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and warmth.
Types of arthritis:
Arthritis, like we mentioned above, contains over 100 different types of joint conditions that affect the body differently, but there are a few common types that we see. We have broken down some of the commonly seen forms of arthritis below and how they work.
- Osteoarthritis: Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis develops when joint cartilage breaks down from repeated stress and is the most common form of arthritis that we see.
- Juvenile arthritis (JA): This specific disorder is where the immune system attacks the tissue around the joints and is most commonly seen in children 16 or younger.
- Gout: This is a disease that causes hard crystals of uric acid to form in the joints, causing pain and discomfort.
- Psoriatic arthritis: This is a condition of joint inflammation that develops in people with psoriasis which is an autoimmune disorder that causes skin irritation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: One of the most commonly talked about forms of arthritis, causes the immune system to attack synovial membranes in the joints.
As you can imagine, dealing with a great deal of joint pain and stiffness can be a difficult challenge to find relief for. However, if you are struggling with arthritis there are some things and recommendations you can do that might help relieve some of the pain and make everyday life a little easier.
- No matter which form of arthritis you may have, it’ll be easier to stay ahead of the pain if you seek the help of your doctor. Keeping your doctor up to date on any new changes in pain or taking any specific recommendations they may have can be extremely helpful. Working with your doctor will help you learn as much as you can about the condition and how it will affect your joints moving forward.
- Keep your joints moving: Doing daily, gentle stretches that move your joints through the full range of motion can help reduce stiffness and pain while allowing you to maintain that range of motion over time.
- Know your limits: With arthritis it’s important to balance activity and rest, while making sure to not overdo it. Lifestyle changes to working out or completing tasks, will be an important step for easing pain, both in the moment and over the course of time.
- Manage weight: Being overweight can increase the complications of arthritis and contribute to the pain it causes. Making incremental, permanent lifestyle changes that result in gradual weight loss is often the most effective way to manage your weight. For those with arthritis in the knee for example, less weight will put less pressure on the joints and hopefully reduce the pain and stress on them as well.
- Quit smoking: It is well known that smoking causes stress on connective tissues, which can increase arthritis pain. We understand that quitting the habit of smoking is a difficult task, but it can play a pivotal role in helping you manage pain and future complications.
- Exercise: Movement and exercise can decrease pain and stiffness in those with arthritis, while also improving range of motion, strengthening muscles and increasing endurance. But it’s also important to choose the right kinds of activities. Choosing exercises that build muscles around the joints, but don’t damage the joints are recommended, and a physical therapist can help you develop a program if you needed.
- Exercises to avoid: Activities that involve high impact and repetitive motion, should be avoided. Some examples include running, jumping, tennis, high-impact aerobics and repeating the same movement, such as a tennis serve, again and again.