People often think of arthritis as a name for a disease that affects the joints. Instead, it’s a blanket term for various types of joint disease that trigger joint pain, limited joint movement, joint deterioration, and more. If your doctor tells you that you have arthritis, you should ask questions to determine what kind you have and how it’s affecting your joints.
The Prevalence of Arthritis
There are over 54 million adults in the United States alone who have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, and the CDC estimates that the number will continue to grow each year.
People suffer differently from arthritis. Some have constant, severe pain that limits how much they can move. Others have pain that comes and goes without interfering with their daily lives and activities.
Common Types of Arthritis
Although there are over 100 kinds of arthritis, these are the most common types that may leave you saying to yourself, “My bones ache,” far too often.
Infectious forms of arthritis aren’t as common as others. Infectious arthritis can happen when bacteria enters the body and invades joints, causing severe inflammation and pain. If it’s caught early enough, infectious arthritis can clear up with strong antibiotics, but sometimes can become chronic.
Degenerative forms of arthritis are the most common, like osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis causes the cartilage that cushions your joints to become thinned out, or even nonexistent. Without this cartilage, your joints may become brittle and weak, which can trigger pain and limited movement in arthritic joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common type of inflammatory arthritis. This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes uncontrollable inflammation in the joints. This inflammation can trigger extreme pain and may eventually damage organs in its path.
Causes of Arthritis
Arthritic joints can start from a variety of different things, depending on the type of arthritis.
Sometimes, an injury to a knee or elbow can cause arthritis in that joint from extreme inflammation that doesn’t subside quickly enough. Excessive use of the same joints, such as people who work for years typing on a computer, can form arthritis in those heavily used joints.
Some people have autoimmune disorders that trigger inflammatory arthritis. In this case, one’s immune system doesn’t work correctly and attacks the joints and tissue as if they were working incorrectly, which can destroy the joints.
Common Symptoms of Arthritis
The following arthritic symptoms are among the most common for those with arthritis. However, if you are experiencing other types of pain that you think might be caused by arthritis, you should book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
One of the most common spots to start feeling arthritis taking over your body is in your knees. The arthritic knee may creak, pop, and crackle when it moves. You might also notice that your knees are less mobile than they used to be, or tend to hurt more when you’re actively walking or moving around.
Athletes are more prone to degenerative arthritis of the knees than others, as are those who have had repetitive injuries to the knees. But, some people are genetically predisposed to arthritis in the knees, making the cartilage break down faster than it typically would.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can both trigger limited finger and hand movement and pain in the fingers, hands, and wrists. Arthritis hands are more common in women than in men, but anyone can suffer from the condition.
If you have arthritis in your hands, you might notice that your fingers don’t experience a full range of motion like they used to. They might become cramped more easily, especially in cold weather, and feel very weak. Arthritis can also cause your fingers to become deformed, creating bony lumps in the finger joints and where the fingers meet the hand.
Arthritis in back refers to arthritis of the spine, most commonly caused by forms of degenerative arthritis.
Much like in other joints of the body, the cartilage between each spinal disc in your back and neck can break down from arthritis. Degenerating cartilage can cause severe back and neck pain, even during periods of rest. You might also find that other parts of your body, most commonly your arms and legs, experience pain due to pinched nerves from the lack of cushion between your spinal discs.
How Does Cold Weather Affect Arthritis?
You’ve probably heard that arthritis and cold weather don’t mix well. Cold weather can trigger more severe pain in the joints affected by arthritis because the barometric pressure caused by a drop in temperature puts more pressure on joints.
Fortunately, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and cold weather can work together with some preparation. Before venturing into the cold air, you should dress warmly. Keep as much of your body covered as possible with a warm jacket, scarf, gloves, and hat. And, remember to stay as active as possible indoors to prevent your joints from stiffening from inactivity.
Common Treatments for Arthritis
Depending on the type of arthritis you have, you’ll have various treatment options available that may help you find some comfort and relief.
Medications are among the most common form of treatment for arthritis. One of the first treatments your doctor may recommend is an anti-inflammatory pain medication that can relieve your symptoms without being invasive. For those with mild to moderate pain from arthritis, an over-the-counter oral or topical medication might help.
For more severe arthritis symptoms, your doctor might recommend a steroid medication that you can take orally. This type of drug is best for long-term use for patients with chronic arthritis and doctors usually prescribe it in combination with a pain reliever.
If oral steroids don’t work, you might, instead, try a steroid injection treatment. This treatment is more common for rheumatoid arthritis patients to prevent the immune system from attacking the joints.
Your doctor can inject steroids through your veins, muscles, or directly into the problem-causing joints. You can typically experience relief soon after an injection, and the relief can last for a few months, after which time you’ll need another dose.
If you’re looking for non-invasive treatment for arthritis, you might want to try heat or cold therapies.
Cold compresses can reduce inflammation, potentially helping you regain some mobility and have less pain in your problem joints. A heating pad can bring some relief to your joints by lubricating them and relaxing the muscles around them. Your doctor can help you decide what treatment is best for your situation, and may even recommend a therapy that alternates the two methods.
Light exercise can sometimes be helpful in strengthening joints, slowing the spread of arthritis, and reducing pain. For those who need some help staying active, physical or occupational therapy may be the answer.
A therapist will work with you to safely move your problem joints through a series of exercises to keep them mobile without causing more pain and damage.
Sometimes, joints become so weak or damaged from arthritis that the best course of treatment is surgery. Knee and hip surgery are among the most common operations related to arthritis. Surgery can help you regain mobility in your problem joints by repairing the damaged cartilage within the joint.
Thanks to recent technology, some of these surgeries are minimally invasive. Arthroscopic knee surgery, for example, only requires a surgeon to make a small incision to repair damaged cartilage in the knee.
Sometimes, a few lifestyle changes are all you need to feel relief from arthritis.
One of the most common causes of arthritis is being overweight. It’s essential to lead an active lifestyle and stick to a healthy diet to maintain an ideal weight for your height and body type. Excess weight puts more pressure on your already worn-down joints.
Do light exercise daily, especially taking advantage of low-impact activities, like swimming. Make it a point to move as much as possible every day without putting excess strain on your joints.
Is There Any Way to Prevent Arthritis?
Arthritis prevention is possible for some people, and even those who are genetically predisposed to arthritis may be able to slow its progress.
Prevention somewhat lies in your diet. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help build cartilage and fight inflammation. And, a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats can help you maintain your ideal weight to avoid excess pressure on your joints.
You should also take care to avoid injuries and excess strain on your joints. Use the right safety equipment when you exercise or participate in sports.
Get on the Fast Track Toward Relief
It’s important to make frequent appointments with your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, both to address any concerns and keep track of your progress. By taking care of your body, utilizing effective treatments, and making beneficial lifestyle changes, you may find yourself on the path to relief from arthritis.