What is arthritis?

Most people have heard of arthritis and know that it refers to pain, inflammation and stiffness in one or more joints between bones. There are more than 200 bones and over 200 joints in the body, so that means a lot of opportunities for flare ups.

Arthritis can also refer to other rheumatic diseases, which are diseases that affect the muscles, tendons and ligaments in addition to the bones and joints. With over 100 different types of arthritis diseases, it's one of the most common orthopaedic problems.

Types of arthritis

The most common type is osteoarthritis, which happens when the cartilage in a joint breaks down. Cartilage lets bones slide against each other smoothly, so a lack of cartilage means the bones rub against each other, causing pain and stiffness. It's often a normal part of aging, but injuries or overuse can wear down your cartilage at any age.

Beyond osteoarthritis, other common types include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)
  • Scleroderma
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis

Causes of arthritis

Different arthritis diseases have different causes. A buildup of urate crystals in a joint causes gout. Some arthritis diseases—like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma—are autoimmune diseases, which occur when the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy body tissues. Some, like ankylosing spondylitis, are genetic.

Who is at risk of arthritis?

While some of the causes—like age and genetics—can't be controlled, other risk factors can. Being overweight or obese means extra wear and tear on the joints, especially the knees.

When exercising or playing sports, take steps to prevent injury, since a joint that has been injured is more likely to develop arthritis down the line. Taking rest days can help you put less stress on your joints and avoid overuse injuries.

What does arthritis feel like?

Arthritis feels like a joint pain that doesn't go away. If it does go away, it often comes back after time.

Your joints may feel stiff or creaky, especially first thing in the morning. It might be tough to move in some of the normal ways you're accustomed to moving. The joint may feel warm or look red.

Diagnosing and testing arthritis

To diagnose most types of arthritis, you'll need an X-ray of the joint that's causing you pain. You might also need other tests, like:

  • Blood testing
  • Urine testing
  • Joint aspiration
  • Biopsy of the muscles or skin
  • Genetic testing, like HLA tissue typing

Arthritis treatment options

Figuring out the cause of your joint pain will help determine the best way to treat it. Common treatments include:

  • Medications for pain relief, to treat an infection, and/or to treat an autoimmune disease
  • Heat and cold
  • Immobilizing the joint with a brace or splint
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Joint injections
  • Corticosteroids, taken by mouth or as an injection

In some cases, surgery may be needed to repair or replace the arthritic joint.

If you have one of the 100+ types of arthritis, you don't have to suffer with joint pain. Talk to a specialist today and take the first step toward joint pain relief.


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