Arthritis

What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints (the parts where bones meet and move). It can affect any joint in your body. If your symptoms are mild, medications may be enough to reduce pain and swelling. For more severe arthritis, surgery may be needed to improve the condition of the joint.

What Causes Arthritis?
Cartilage is a smooth substance that protects the ends of your bones. When you have arthritis, this cartilage breaks down and can no longer protect your bones. The bones rub against each other, causing pain and swelling. Over time, bone spurs (small pieces of rough or splintered bone) may develop, and the joint's range of motion becomes limited.

Symptoms
Some of the more common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness. Pain and stiffness get worse with long periods of rest or using a joint too long or too hard.
  • Joints that have lost normal shape and motion.
  • Tender, inflamed joints. They may look red and feel warm.
  • Feeling tired all the time.


There are more than 100 forms of arthritis, but the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Basically, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and osteoarthritis is a condition that results from wear and tear on your joints. Following is more information on these conditions and tips for coping.

What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a disease that causes the cartilage in your joints to break down. Cartilage is a smooth substance that protects the ends of your bones and helps your joints move. Osteoarthritis becomes more common as people get older. To diagnose this disease, your doctor will ask about your health history and perform an exam. X-rays may also be needed.

   

Symptoms
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, with women tending to get it in their hands. Weight-bearing joints, such as the hip and knee, are often affected in both men and women. Some of the more common symptoms of this disease include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness. Long periods of rest or using a joint too long or too hard can make pain and stiffness worse.
  • Weak muscles or wobbly joints.
  • Joints that have lost normal shape and motion.

If Surgery Is Needed
For people with severe joint damage, surgery can decrease pain and improve movement. Joint replacement is the most common surgery used to treat osteoarthritis. Joints in the knee, hip, and shoulder are replaced most often.

Living with Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is an ongoing problem. But it doesn’t have to keep you from leading an active life. You can help control symptoms by exercising and watching your weight. Using special tools also helps make life easier. Be sure to see your doctor as requested for checkups and lab work.

  • Make Exercise Part of Your Life
    Gentle exercise can help lessen your pain. Keep the following in mind when you work out:
    • Choose exercises that improve joint motion and make your muscles stronger. Your doctor or a physical therapist may suggest a few.
    • Try low-impact sports, such as walking, biking, or doing exercises in a warm pool.
    • Don’t push yourself too hard at first. Slowly build up your endurance over time.
    • When pain and stiffness increase, cut back on your workout.
  • Watch Your Weight
    If you weigh more than you should, your weight-bearing joints are under extra pressure. This makes your symptoms worse. To reduce pain and stiffness, try shedding a few of those extra pounds. The tips below may help:
    • Start a weight-loss program with the help of your doctor.
    • Ask your friends and family for support.
    • Join a weight-loss group.
  • Use Special Tools
    Even simple tasks can be hard to do when your joints hurt. The special tools and aids listed here can make things easier by reducing strain and protecting your joints. Ask your health care provider where to find these and other helpful tools:
    • Long-handled reachers or grabbers
    • Jar openers and button threaders
    • Splints for your wrists or other joints
    • Large grips for pencils, garden tools, and other hand-held objects

 

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the lining of the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. Left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis may damage joints so badly that they no longer function. This disease appears most often in young-adult to middle-age women. To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will ask about your health history and perform an exam. X-rays and blood tests may also be needed.

Symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect most joints. But people tend to feel it in their fingers and wrists. The elbows, knees, and balls of the feet are also common sites. This disease often affects the same joint on both sides of the body. Symptoms may include:

  • Tender, inflamed joints. They may look red and feel warm.
  • Stiff joints. Long periods of rest or using a joint too long or too hard can make stiffness worse.
  • Joints that have lost normal shape and motion.
  • Feeling tired all the time.

If Surgery Is Needed
For people with severe joint damage, surgery can help decrease pain and make it easier to use a joint. Joint replacement, usually of the hip or knee, is one of the most common surgeries for this condition. Other types of surgery may be done to help control problems in the hands or feet.

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an ongoing problem, but it doesn’t have to keep you from being active. You can help control it with exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to see your doctor as requested for checkups and lab work. At some point, your doctor may send you to a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in arthritis and related diseases).

  • Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
    While no one knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis, these tips may help reduce your symptoms:
    • Find the right balance of rest and activity.
    • Learn ways to reduce or control stress.
    • Ask your family and friends for help with tasks.
    • Eat healthy foods.
    • Stay at your proper weight.
  • Start to Exercise
    Gentle exercise can make it easier to use your joints. Keep the following in mind when you work out:
    • Choose exercises that improve joint motion and make your muscles stronger. Your doctor or a physical therapist may suggest a few.
    • Low-impact activities, such as walking, biking, or exercising in a warm pool, are good.
    • Don’t push yourself too hard at first. Slowly build up your endurance over time.
    • When pain and stiffness are really bad, cut back on your workout.
  • Use Special Tools
    Even simple tasks can be hard to do when your joints hurt. The special tools and aids listed here can make things easier by reducing strain and protecting your joints. Ask your health care provider where to find these and other helpful tools:
    • Long-handled reachers and grabbers
    • Jar openers, two-handled cups, button threaders
    • Splints for your wrists or other joints
    • Large grips for pencils, garden tools, and other hand-held objects


Visit the Arthritis Foundation  for more information.