Arthritis is a common disorder that affects your body’s joints (the areas where your bones meet). It usually involves swelling, tenderness, degeneration of the joints, and aching or sharp pains.
Joints are cushioned and supported by soft tissue that prevent your bones from rubbing against each other. A connective tissue called articular cartilage plays a key role in helping your joints move smoothly and freely without friction or pain. Some joints have a synovial membrane which is a padded pocket of fluid that lubricates the joints. Other joints, such as your knee joint, get supported by tendons (which connect muscles to your bones) and ligaments (which connect bones to bones).
The disorder attacks these different tissues and membranes, most commonly in the following areas of the body:
- Lower back
Types of Arthritis
Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the U.S., with about 50 million adults and 300,000 children suffering from some form of the disorder. Arthritis is a broad term that describes more than a hundred different joint conditions, including:
- Osteoarthritis, known as “wear and tear” arthritis, develops when joint cartilage breaks down from repeated stress. This is the most common form of arthritis.
- Ankylosing spondylitis is arthritis of the spine (usually the lower back).
- Juvenile arthritis is a disorder that typically affects children 16 in which the immune system attacks the tissue around joints.
- Gout is a disease that causes hard crystals of uric acid to form in your joints.
- Psoriatic Arthritis is joint inflammation that develops in people with psoriasis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes the immune system to attack the synovial membranes in your joints.
Common Symptoms of Arthritis
Different types also have different symptoms. Often symptoms can be mild in some people and severe in others. Joint pain can come and go or stay constant.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Pain in the joint area
- Warmth in the joint area
- Redness around the joint
- Swelling around the joint
- Tenderness in the joint area
Causes of Arthritis
Different types of arthritis have different causes, and for some types, the exact cause is unknown.
Possible causes include:
- A family history of arthritis
- Repeated stress on joints due to a sport or work
- Certain autoimmune diseases or viral infections
Infections, or an underlying disease, such as lupus or psoriasis, can cause arthritis. Also, the presence of too much uric acid in the blood can cause a form of arthritis called gout.
Factors that can make you more at risk include:
- Lifestyle choices such as smoking or not exercising
- Obesity which puts extra strain on your joints
- Being female
If you are concerned you might have arthritis, see your provider for a physical exam that will include:
- Assessing the mobility and range of motion in your joints
- Checking for areas of swelling and tenderness around your joints
- Evaluating your overall health to determine if a different condition may be the cause of your symptoms
Your provider may also order an imaging exam such as an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound to get a clear image of your bones, joints, and soft tissues.
An imaging exam can show:
- Bone fracture or dislocations that might be the cause of your joint pain
- Cartilage breakdown around your joints
- Muscle, ligament or tendon injuries around your joint
- Soft tissue swelling
If you are diagnosed with arthritis, your provider will discuss the best treatment and management plan for you.
Management and Treatment
There is no cure for arthritis, but there are treatments that can help you manage the symptoms. Your particular treatment plan will depend on the severity, your symptoms, and overall health.
Conservative, nonsurgical treatments include:
- Medications, including anti-inflammatory and pain medications may be prescribed to relieve symptoms such as biologics that target your immune system’s inflammatory response
- Physical therapy may be advised to help improve strength, range of motion, and overall mobility and tips for lessening pain
- Therapeutic injections such as cortisone shots temporarily relieve pain and inflammation. Arthritis in certain joints like the knee may improve with viscosupplementation, which involves the injection of a lubricant to help move joints smoothly.
- Surgery is only recommended for certain severe cases of arthritis that have not improved with more conservative treatments
Surgical options include fusion and joint replacement:
- Fusion is the permanent fusing of two or more bones together to immobilize a joint to reduce pain caused by movement
- Joint replacement is the replacement of a damaged, arthritic joint with an artificial joint to preserve joint function and movement. Examples include ankle, hip, knee, and shoulder replacements.
If you experience moments of sudden, intense pain in a joint, an ongoing achy pain in a joint, or any other arthritic symptoms, call our primary care clinic at Catawba Valley Healthcare to set up an appointment at (828) 695-5900.