Arthritis literally means “inflammation of the joints”. The term describes nearly 200 conditions affecting the joints, tissues surrounding the joints, and other connective tissues. You can learn all about arthritis with a search online right now.
Arthritis is considered a rheumatic condition. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Other rheumatic conditions related to arthritis include gout, fibromyalgia, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. The cardinal symptoms of arthritis, which may occur in one or more joints in the body, include:
- Intermittent or constant pain;
- Swelling with associated redness of the skin surrounding the joint;
- Stiffness, and;
- Decreased range of motion.
Other signs and symptoms of arthritis to be on the lookout for may include:
- Joint deformities;
- Grinding noises/sensations;
- Locking or sensation of joint(s) giving way;
- Lumps or bumps around joints, such as rheumatoid nodules, Heberden’s nodes, or Bouchard’s nodes.
Other less commonly encountered — but still important and typically more sinister — signs and symptoms of arthritis may include:
- Weight loss;
- Anemia, and;
- Lymph node swelling.
Types of Arthritis
There are upwards of 200 types of arthritis, but these types may be categorized into six main groups.
1. Inflammatory Arthritis
This type of arthritis is characterized by high levels of inflammation. It can be acute or chronic.
Acute causes of inflammatory arthritis include:
- Tendinitis, and;
- Infections like Chlamydia.
Chronic causes of inflammatory arthritis include:
- Polymyalgia rheumatica;
- Psoriatic arthritis, and;
- Ankylosing spondylitis.
2. Degenerative/Mechanical Arthritis
This type of arthritis results from general wear and tear. OA, the most well-known and most common type of arthritis, is a member of this group.
3. Soft Tissue Musculoskeletal Pain
This category is composed of pain syndromes arising from musculoskeletal disorders. These syndromes can lead to the development of arthritis.
The pain syndromes found in this category include:
- Rotator cuff tendinopathy;
- Biceps tendinopathy;
- Olecranon bursitis;
- Lateral epicondylitis, which is more commonly known as tennis elbow;
- Medial epicondylitis, which is more commonly known as golfer’s elbow;
- Trigger finger, and;
- Plantar fasciitis.
4. Connective Tissue Disease
This category is attributable to autoimmune conditions, in which the body attacks its own tissues. Autoimmune conditions found in this category include:
- Scleroderma, and;
- Sjögren’s syndrome.
5. Infectious Arthritis
The two major forms of infectious arthritis are septic arthritis and reactive arthritis. Septic arthritis is caused by an actual infection in the joint. Reactive arthritis is where an infection in another part of the body — such as the intestines, genitals, or urinary tract — triggers an inflammatory response in the joints.
In addition to these two major types, there are several kinds of systemic infections that can trigger arthritis. This includes:
- Lyme disease;
- Fifth disease;
- German measles, and;
- Rheumatic fever.
6. Metabolic Arthritis
The quintessential example of this group is gout. Gout is characterized by high levels of uric acid that build up and form needle-shaped crystals in the joints, resulting in sudden bouts of extreme joint pain.
Possible risk factors for arthritis include:
- Family History/Genetics: If someone in your family — especially siblings or parents — has arthritis, it may put you at increased risk for the development of arthritis. In fact, the likes of RA, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis have been linked to certain genes.
- Advancing Age: It is well-known that the risk of some types of arthritis increase with age.
- Gender: Some forms of arthritis affect one gender more commonly than another. For example, women are more likely than men to develop RA. However, men are more likely than women to develop gout.
- Joint Injuries: A prior joint injury may make you more susceptible to the development of arthritis in that particular joint.
- Obesity: Extra weight puts undue stress on joints, especially the knees, hips, and spine. As such, it puts you at a higher risk of developing arthritis.
- Infection: Whether they be bacterial, viral, or fungal, microorganisms can infect joints and spark inflammation.
- Work/Occupation: If your job or vocation is hard on your joints — particularly if in the form of repetitive knee bending and squatting — you may be more likely to develop OA of the knee and/or hip.
- Smoking: This risk factor has been linked not only to the progression of arthritis but also to the severity of RA and lupus.
Living with Arthritis
Living with arthritis can be very challenging. It makes everyday tasks increasingly difficult, especially if the arthritis is progressive. The good news is there are changes that you can make to slow or prevent the progression of arthritis.
Most of the lifestyle changes needed when living with arthritis are interrelated. They include:
- A healthy diet;
- Regular exercise, and;
- Assistive devices.
A healthy diet is one of the cornerstones of managing arthritis. When picking a diet, you should choose a variety of whole grains, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean cuts of meat and fish. These will provide vitamins and minerals that have the potential to reduce inflammation.
Conversely, you should minimize or avoid fried/greasy foods, highly processed foods, milk/dairy products, and fatty cuts of meat. These are potent inducers of inflammation.
Furthermore, if you have RA, a gluten-free diet and omega-3 fatty acids may improve symptoms and possible disease progression. Diet is a key component in the management of gout as foods high in purines, alcohol, and sugar should be limited in individuals with the disease. Also, consider eating smaller portions and drinking a glass of water before each meal.
Regular exercise is another cornerstone, especially since it helps to keep joints limber. Swimming and other water sports/activities are excellent choices. This is since the buoyancy of the water drastically reduces the stress on weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees.
As previously noted, you should strive for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days per week. Other tips to help with exercise include:
- Taking a 20- to 30-minute walk after meals;
- Using the stairs instead of the elevator, if possible, and;
- Counting your steps with a pedometer.
Remember to consult your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist before starting a regular exercise regimen. This will help you avoid overexertion.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help with specific tasks and keep an open mind with regard to assistive devices. Everyone wants to maintain their independence, but it may be foolish and painful to ignore your physical limitations resulting from arthritis.
Assistive devices include canes, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, shower seats and raised toilet seats. These devices may help to protect your joints and improve your ability to perform activities of daily living.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among U.S. adults. In fact, by the year 2040, it will grow to affect more than 78 million Americans.
For many individuals, arthritis has the potential to become a source of chronic pain with associated depression and/or anxiety. Moreover, arthritis is pretty common in individuals with other chronic medical conditions (i.e., 49 percent of adults with heart disease, 47 percent of adults with diabetes, and 31 percent of adults with obesity).
Fortunately, early diagnosis and treatment with multiple effective techniques can prevent or slow the progression of this all too common disease.