Understanding and Managing Arthritis

As we get older, there are a few common complaints many of us pick up as well. Achy joints are high on this list, and arthritis may be the cause of the pain. In fact, 23 percent of American adults suffer with some form of arthritis. If you’ve ever been subjected to a groaning knee joint as you got up from a chair or painful, stiff hands, you may be wondering what arthritis is. More to the point, what causes arthritis, can arthritis be prevented, and most importantly, can you find relief from the pain?

What Is Arthritis?

It may help to first explain what arthritis is before we look into how to prevent or relieve it. Arthritis is a general term for joint pain, swelling or inflammation in or around joints, and illnesses affecting joints. In most cases, arthritis can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the afflicted areas, but in more severe cases, it can limit mobility and lower one’s quality of life. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but you can sort them into four different categories.

Degenerative Arthritis

Degenerative arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, is the most common form of arthritis that usually occurs as the cartilage in your joints is worn away over time. This causes the two bones — normally cushioned by the cartilage — to grind against each other, which can result in swelling, stiffness, and of course, pain. The most common causes of osteoarthritis tend to lead to trauma to the cartilage. They can include excess weight, injury (especially to joints or cartilage), or overuse with age. Your genes may also play a factor.

Inflammatory Arthritis

Normally, our immune system is our line of defense against illnesses, but if it becomes overactive, it can cause a host of issues. One of these issues is inflammatory arthritis. As the immune system turns on the body, it can cause swelling. This swelling, much like other forms of arthritis, leads to the pain, stiffness, and decreased flexibility that goes hand in hand with arthritis. Someone’s genetics is a common reason for inflammatory arthritis, though environmental and behavioral factors can lead to it as well. Two examples of inflammatory arthritis are rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Since it’s usually caused by an underlying condition, it can be important to sport inflammatory arthritis early, so that you can begin treatment.

Infectious Arthritis

Infectious disease can also cause inflammation of the joints. In these cases, it’s considered infectious arthritis. Generally, the inflammation clears up along with the illness, but it can become chronic if left untreated. Sometimes called septic arthritis, this kind of ailment is often caused by illnesses like a staph infection, gonorrhea, hepatitis. It’s important to note that, while the joint is affected by the infection, it’s usually not infected.

Metabolic Arthritis

Our final category of arthritis, metabolic arthritis, is most commonly represented by gout. It occurs when too much uric acid is created in the body, forming crystals in the joints. This results in symptoms like extreme pain, swelling, redness, stiffness, and excessive heat generation. Gout often clears up on its own, but it can become chronic or may require doctor’s assistance to treat.

Can It Be Prevented?

While you can’t 100 percent prevent arthritis, there are ways you can lessen your chances of developing it. Obviously, you can’t change your genes or stop yourself from aging, two major risk factors, but you can make lifestyle changes that may help.

For example, you can work toward a healthy weight, which can lessen the regular strain placed on your joints. You can also protect yourself from joint injuries, whether you’re playing a sport or at a risk through your occupation. You particularly need joint protection — think a knee or ankle brace — with jobs that require a lot of bending or long-term strain on your joints. Finally, if you smoke, you should quit (for a number of reasons). It can increase your risk of arthritis and has also been linked to more severe cases of arthritis.

Finding Relief from Joint Pain

If you have arthritis or think you may have it, the first step toward finding relief from joint pain is to work with your doctor to find ways to manage the condition. Together, you’ll find out what kind of arthritis you have and what ways you can most effectively deal with any pain and mobility issues.

Together with your doctor, you’ll find out what kind of arthritis you have and how best to treat it.

There are a few other simple ways you can deal with joint pain from arthritis. The two big ones are losing weight and eating a healthy diet. Exercise is also a good idea. Not only can it help you lose weight, it can strengthen your joints, which can also lessen joint pain. Between these lifestyle changes, management programs from your doctor, and protecting your joints from further injury, managing the pain and stiffness from arthritis should be more than possible.

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Further Reading

Medicareful Living — Dealing with Join Pain from Arthritis
Medicareful Living — Is Exercise for Seniors with Arthritis Good?