Arthritis — also known as joint inflammation — is the result of reduced cushioning between bones and occurs frequently in older adults.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition that affects more than 1 in 5 adults in the United States. There are over 100 types of arthritis, each with different underlying causes. The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs with increased age. It commonly affects the fingers, hips, and knees. It can be accelerated by overuse of joints or injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that impacts the use of the hands and feet. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of joints.
Other less common types of arthritis include fibromyalgia, gout, and lupus.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Arthritis can cause everyday activities to become difficult including walking and sitting up straight. This has the potential to increase the risk of injury, and the following can be symptoms of arthritis:
- Stiffness – this is likely to occur in the morning or after resting
- Pain & tenderness – aching can occur during and after activity and joints may feel tender to the touch
- Swelling & redness – this happens when fluid collects around the joint and can feel sore when touched
- Loss of motion – it is common to have trouble bending over, gripping objects and getting dressed
- Noise – joints can often produce a popping or creaking sound when used
Causes of Arthritis
Arthritis can be caused by repetitive movement that damages cartilage over time. With decreased cartilage comes friction and sometimes direct bone-on-bone contact.
Other factors that can contribute to arthritis include:
Family history – some joint disorders are linked to hereditary factors
Obesity – excess weight puts strain on joints and increases the risk of developing arthritis
Previous injury – it is typical for joints that have suffered prior damage to show signs of arthritis
Gender – arthritis is significantly more common in women than men
Age – most arthritis occurs in people over the age of 65
How is Arthritis Diagnosed?
A physical exam performed by a medical professional is necessary to diagnose arthritis. This usually includes a visual inspection of the joints as well as a range of motion test.
Supplementary lab tests are sometimes necessary to analyze fluids that can indicate what type of arthritis is present. This is accomplished by examining blood, joint fluid or urine.
Imaging tests can also be helpful tools in arthritis diagnosis. These can include an ultrasound, X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment of Arthritis
While treatment can help, there is no cure for arthritis. The symptoms are chronic, lasting for years or a lifetime, but can be managed through:
- Medication – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen or ibuprofen can help with inflammation and pain while steroids can be a short-term option that helps protect joints from future damage
- Physical therapy & exercise – stretching, swimming, yoga and other activities can help regain some of the lost range of motion
- Weight loss – maintaining a healthy weight reduces the pressure placed on joints
- Surgery – sometimes it is necessary to undergo joint replacement, most commonly in the knees and hips