According to the CDC, arthritis is one of the most widespread conditions in the United States, affecting about 1 in 4 adults.
In fact, it’s estimated it affects almost 59 million Americans.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month, which is the perfect time to learn more and help spread the word.
Arthritis affects older adults, younger adults, and even children. In fact, approximately 300,000 children may have some type of arthritis.
And while it’s a common condition, it can sometimes be misunderstood.
In today’s article we’ll be sharing:
- What arthritis is and what causes it
- The different types of arthritis
- Symptoms to look out for
- Different treatment options available
Keep reading to learn more!
What is arthritis?
So, what is arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints. It usually causes degeneration and inflammation, leading to pain and discomfort.
Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to stay active and move around. Even simple tasks like sitting, walking, or clenching your fists can become difficult and painful.
And although it’s often thought of and referred to as a single condition, there are actually more than 100 types of arthritis and conditions related to it.
But, what are the distinctions between the many different types of arthritis?
Different forms cause different symptoms and each form might merit distinct approaches to treatment.
What causes arthritis?
To understand what causes arthritis we first need to understand how our joints work.
Soft tissues cushion and protect our joints, this prevents our bones from rubbing against one another. Connective tissue called articular cartilage works to help our joints move with ease and without pain or discomfort.
But not all our joints function the same way.
Some of our joints have something called the synovial membrane, which is responsible for lubricating our joints.
There are also tendons and ligaments. Tendons attach our muscles to our bones, ligaments attach our bones to one another, and both of them work to support certain joints such as our knees.
While there are many types of arthritis, and many ways they can affect our bodies, we’ll focus here on the most common.
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Each affects joints differently:
- Osteoarthritis - causes wear-and-tear damage to cartilage. Cartilage normally allows for slick movement of our joints, functioning as a protective shield on our bones, preventing bone-on-bone contact. Over time, with enough damage, cartilage will deteriorate to the point that our bones are making direct contact and rubbing against each other.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis - causes the body's immune system to attack the lining of the joint capsule (the synovial membrane). The synovial membrane then becomes swollen and inflamed. With time, this condition can destroy bone and cartilage within the joint.
Although osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of this condition, there is another form of arthritis that specifically affects children:
- Childhood or juvenile arthritis - The most common form of childhood arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis which is also referred to as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This can cause permanent damage to joints making it difficult for children to go about their day-to-day activities and it could lead to disability.
Symptoms and treatment options
It’s great to know the science around arthritis, but what are the symptoms?
Understanding and being aware of the symptoms of arthritis can help you better understand if you or your loved ones might be dealing with it.
This can help people get the treatment they need in a timely manner.
Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms can vary, but there are some common symptoms, including:
- A decreased range of motion
If you’re concerned you or someone you know may have arthritis - contact a medical specialist, get a professional opinion, and learn about treatment options.
Treatment options vary depending on the type and severity of arthritis.
Medications and physical therapy are common forms of treatment. And sometimes if initial treatment doesn’t help, a doctor may suggest surgery. But it depends on how severe the arthritis is and what impact it has on your life.
Some common medications prescribed for arthritis management include:
- Steroids - Corticosteroid medications are often used to slow joint damage and reduce pain and inflammation. They’re sometimes injected directly into the joint or they’re given in the form of a pill.
- Counterirritants - Creams and ointments that contain capsaicin or menthol are sometimes used to help with pain and inflammation. The idea is to rub the cream or ointment on the affected joints to help interfere with pain signals.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - These medications are used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Some common forms include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. There are even anti-inflammatory topical medications now available.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) - these drugs are used to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, in an attempt to protect the joints and other tissues from permanent damage.
Physical therapy and exercise can also help.
Exercising can help strengthen muscles and improve overall range of motion. And physical therapy could help improve mobility and increase strength to support our joints.
For some though, medication and physical therapy may not be enough. In such cases, doctors may suggest surgery, depending on how serious the condition is.
Some forms of surgery include:
- Joint fusion - this is a more common procedure for smaller joints. It involves the removal of the ends of two bones in the joint. The ends are then locked together until they heal into a single fixed unit.
- Joint repair - performed through small incisions made over the joints, this surgery involves smoothing out the surfaces of joints to improve function and reduce pain.
- Joint replacement - the damaged joint is removed completely and then replaced with a manufactured one.
Conclusion - Arthritis awareness month
Arthritis is a common condition that affects many Americans. Although it’s most common in older adults, it can be present in children and young adults as well.
With the variety of different forms out there, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of arthritis. In doing so, you can help catch this condition before it gets too serious.
There are many treatment options available that can help with the pain, discomfort, and inflammation that arthritis causes.
Be sure to share this article with a friend or family member who you think could really benefit from learning more about arthritis.