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May 24, 2021
Not one single disease as commonly thought, “arthritis” is the informal way of referring to joint pain or a joint disease. With May being National Arthritis Awareness Month, we are taking this time to talk a little bit more about this very common, yet not very well understood diagnosis.
Common arthritis symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, redness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Symptoms typically worsen with age and severe arthritis can make it difficult to do daily tasks, walk comfortably, and can result in chronic pain.
Types of Arthritis
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative arthritis and the most common type, is caused by wear and tear of your joints’ cartilage, the hard, slippery tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones where they form a joint.
Ideally, your cartilage cushions the ends of your bones and allows nearly frictionless joint motion. When damaged, you can experience bones grinding directly on another bone, causing pain and restricted movement. This damage can take place over many years or can be accelerated by a joint injury or infection.
The disorder commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine, however it can damage any joint in the body. Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling, a grating sensation, bone spurs, and loss of flexibility. Symptoms tend to develop slowly and worsen over time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder where the immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, which is a tough membrane that encloses every part of the joint. The lining becomes inflamed and swollen. Over time, the disease can destroy cartilage and bone within the joint. The disorder can also affect other body systems including the skin, eyes, lungs, and blood vessels.
Signs and symptoms may include tender, warm, swollen, or stiff joints, and fatigue or fever and loss of appetite. Rheumatoid arthritis typically effects smaller joints first, and then spreads to larger joints throughout the body. These symptoms often vary in severity and may come and go.
Additional types of arthritis include infectious arthritis where a bacterium, virus, or fungus can enter the joint and cause inflammation, and metabolic arthritis where uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells.
Risk factors for arthritis include family history, age, gender, obesity, and previous joint injury.
Arthritis symptoms can be reduced through weight loss, exercise, heating pads or ice packs, and assistive devices. It is important to learn about the disease and treatment options if you believe you may have arthritis of any kind.
It is important to talk with your doctor if you are experiencing joint pain. Before your appointment, start keeping notes of any signs and symptoms you are experiencing. During your appointment you will want to make sure to touch on when your symptoms started, which joints are painful, which activities make pain better or worse, and if you have any family history of joint pain.
In order to obtain a diagnosis, your doctor will check your joints for redness, warmth, and swelling. They may also suggest lab tests of body fluids in order to identify the type of arthritis you are living with. Your doctor may also request imaging, which can detect problems within your joint. Imaging tests could include x-rays, computerized tomography (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or an ultrasound.
Treatments can vary depending on the type of arthritis. Since damage to joints cannot be reversed, the goal of most treatments is to reduce and relieve symptoms, improve joint function, and increase the quality of life. No one option works best for every patient, so several different treatments or combination of treatments may be tested before the most successful is determined.
Examples of treatments are medications, physical therapy, and joint repair, replacement, or fusion surgery. You can learn more about total joint surgery services at Orthopaedic Associates at https://www.oaduluth.com/surgical.php.
If you are experiencing joint pain or arthritis symptoms, scheduling an appointment with one of our Board-certified surgeons could start you on the path to getting back to your normal lifestyle. Fill out a contact form today: https://www.oaduluth.com/contact.php.