What is Arthritis?

Do you suffer from joint pain and stiffness which seems to get worse with age?

Chances are you can be suffering from a form of arthritis.

Arthritis is generally characterized as pain, tenderness, swelling, or stiffness located in the joints of an individual. Although generally attributed to older individuals, arthritis affects people of all ages

From the irritating to the debilitating, arthritis can make it difficult to perform daily tasks and maintain an active lifestyle.

However you are not alone.

woman massaging arthritis in hand

According to the CDC, over 54 million people in the United States suffer from arthritis.

In fact, almost 1 in every 4 adults have been or will be diagnosed with some form of arthritis, which is the number one cause of disability in America.

But what causes arthritis? 

Is there a cure?

Facts about Arthritis

Arthritis itself is a blanket term used to describe the aches, stiffness, and pains that someone experiences in their joints.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are over 100 forms of arthritis and conditions related to them.

These 100 forms and conditions are generally broken down into four categories:

  • Degenerative Arthritis commonly referred to as Osteoarthritis
  • Inflammatory Arthritis
  • Infectious Arthritis
  • Metabolic Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and Degeneration

Degenerative Arthritis, or Osteoarthritis, is the most common arthritis which people suffer from.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage (the same material which makes up your nose and ears) that covers the end of the bone near the joint begins to wear away.

Without this protective covering, the bones rub together resulting in pain, stiffness and swelling.

Constant friction between the bones can cause them to lose their strength, resulting in a painful condition which can eventually become chronic.

Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis

Some risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Age
  • Previous injuries to the area and surrounding tendons
  • Family history
  • Excess Weight
  • Joint overuse

Treatments for Osteoarthritis

If you have reason to believe that you suffer from osteoarthritis, it is highly recommended that you contact your healthcare provider for treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several treatments available for osteoarthritis sufferers:

Medications for Osteoarthritis:

  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)-Including Over-the-counter drugs such as Motrin, Advil, and Ibuprofen

  • Acetaminophen-Tylenol

Therapies for Osteoarthritis:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy

Surgeries and Injections for Osteoarthritis:

  • Cortisone injections
  • Lubrication injections
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty)
  • Realigning bones

For less invasive and less expensive options, the osteoarthritis suffer can try:

  • Losing Weight

  • Exercising
  • Acupuncture
  • Supports, Braces, and other assistive devices
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Application of Heat and Ice

Pain in knee

When it comes to getting immediate relief from osteoarthritis pain, it is recommended that a heating pad and/or ice pack is kept on hand.

I recently experienced the amazing power of this simple, yet effective tool when I recently went to visit my mother.

Although active, my mother suffers from severe pain in both of her knees as a result of previous injuries, family history, and other factoring health issues.

On our way home from a daily excursion which included walking and window shopping, I saw my mother, who happened to be driving the vehicle, begin to couple over in pain.

Out of nowhere, an intense searing pain had seized her right knee.
We quickly made it back to her house, and I went to retrieve my Lavabag, a microwavable heating pad filled with noncombustible lava sand.

I ran to the microwave and heated it up.

As soon as I placed the heated Lavabag on her very swollen legs, I saw relief flood her face.

My mother was able to relax and was soon able to carefully return to our fun day of window shopping and nature walking.

Although a heating pad was used in this setting, cold can also be applied on the onset of a flare to reduce swelling.

Once again, I prefer Lavabags over other traditional ice packs.

Usually when I use an ice pack on any part of my body, the intense cold is too much and I’m not able to keep it applied to the affected area.

Lavabags, when stored in a freezer are cold, but not painful.

For more information as to when to apply heat or ice to an injury, check out the article, “When to Apply Heat or Cold.

Inflammatory Arthritis 

Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system creates inflammation that attacks joints, organs, and other parts of the body

Examples of inflammatory arthritis conditions include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis, which unfortunately at this time has no cure.

Creakyjoints.org breaks rheumatoid arthritis down into four stages:

  • Stage 1- Early RA
  • Stage 2- Antibodies develop and swelling worsens
  • Stage 3- Symptoms are visible
  • Stage 4-Joints become fused

With rheumatoid arthritis, early detection is crucial to help the individual deal with the symptoms before they escalate into something more severe.

Early RA

Early rheumatoid arthritis is the first onset of RA when the autoimmune process begins to mistake joint tissue as a threat and starts to attack it.

Symptoms of early RA are usually subtle, such as early morning stiffness in the smaller joints and knees.

However, unlike osteoarthritis, with movement the stiffness usually goes away.

Unfortunately, because the symptoms of Early RA are so subtle, it is hard to detect it very early.

Blood tests, ultrasounds, and x-rays can be used to look for an increase of antibodies in certain areas or inflammation near joints, however results are similar to other diseases so a conclusive diagnosis isn’t always given.

Treatment options listed by the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Steroids
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)-Over-the-counter Ibuprofen and stronger prescription forms
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biologic agents
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Surgery- Including Tendon Repair, Synovectomy (removes inflamed lining of the joint), Joint Fusion, Total Joint Replacement).

Antibodies Develop and Swelling Worsens

During the second stage, the signs of RA begin to become more visible and more detectable.

This is the stage when the joints begin swelling more and lumps on joints, primarily the elbow may begin to develop.

Symptoms Become Visible

The third stage is much more severe than the previous two. 

Bloodwork and ultrasounds are more or less unneeded because the physical and visible signs of the disease are very apparent.

Misshapen joints cause fingers and other digits to become deformed, and press against nerves that can create even more pain for the individual.

Fusion of Joints

The final stage of Rheumatoid Arthritis is when the joints are basically destroyed and it is basically fused into place.

However, with treatment, most Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers need not reach this stage.

Because of advances in medicine, rheumatoid arthritis is treatable and individuals can even go into remission.

man with aching knee

Lupus and Arthritis

For many the over 1.5 million Lupus sufferers in America, or the five million people world wide, all can agree that Lupus is a pain.(Lupus.org)

Chronic pain is sadly a way of life for many with this condition, and usually medications and an active lifestyle can only offer a little bit of relief.

Inflammatory arthritis, especially Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the physical symptoms that manifests itself in a diagnosis of Lupus.

Although associated with Lupus, Lupus is not a form of arthritis, it is only one of several conditions that comes along with the autoimmune disease.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis affects certain individuals who also suffer from the skin condition, psoriasis.

Individuals who develop psoriasis, which is a skin condition that causes red patches of skin  with greyish scales to develop on various parts of the body, may also develop joint pain associated with it.

As a chronic disease, psoriatic arthritis can worsen over time, but may have periods of remission.

Because it is an inflammatory arthritis, its symptoms and treatments are similar to rheumatoid arthritis.

Infectious Arthritis

Infectious arthritis occurs when a bacterium, fungus, or virus somehow enters into a joint, causing inflammation to become triggered.

Fortunately, treatment with antibiotics and other medications can help cure the joint infection without any lingering effects.

In rare cases, infectious arthritis can become chronic.

Metabolic Arthritis

Gout is an example of a metabolic arthritis

Gout

Gout is a sudden onset of pain, redness, and swelling that affects one to many joints at the same time.

The joint most susceptible to it is the big toe.

The cause of gout is the accumulation of urate crystals in your joint which come from high levels of uric acid that passes in your blood.

Uric acid is produced in the body to help break down purines which is a substance found in foods including red meats, seafood, and alcoholic beverages, and is also naturally produced by the body.

Risk factors for gout listed by the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Weight
  • Diet
  • Family History
  • Medical Conditions
  • Medications
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Surgery or other trauma caused to the body

Individuals with gout can develop worse conditions including kidney stones, recurrent and advanced gout.

Diet modifications, such as cutting certain foods and beverages from the diet and drinking more water, as well as medications and alternative therapies such as acupuncture are proven to help with gout symptoms.

It is also recommended that on the onset of a gout flare to use an alternating application of hot and cold presses to the affected area.

Arthritis is a Pain

In conclusion, we can all agree that arthritis is a pain which unfortunately affects millions of people.

If you or someone you know is suffering from any symptoms of arthritis, seek medical advice to help before costly and sometimes irreversible damage is done to the body.

Keep pain relieving tools on hand, including a reliable heating pad and ice pack to help naturally relieve unexpected flares of pain.

Choose a heating pad that can maintain a comfortable heat, and pressure to help loosen stiffness and reduce swelling.

Talk to your doctor about any modifications to diet or lifestyle that can help prevent flare ups and damage to your joints.

In the end, arthritis may be a part of many people’s lives, but with the right steps and tools, it doesn’t have to stop you from living your life.