The Facts on Arthritis & Joint Pain:
What is arthritis?
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not a single disease but rather a manner of referring to either joint pain or joint-related disease. In fact, there are over 100 types of arthritis and conditions related to arthritis. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States and while it can affect individuals of every age, gender and ethnicity, it’s more common among women and tends to be more prevalent with age.
The most common symptoms associated with arthritis are reduced range of motion and pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints. Symptoms can be mild to severe and many people find that some days are better than others and that their symptoms come and go. Symptoms often remain stable for years but then frequently worsen with age.
Arthritis can lead to chronic pain which can limit daily activities and negatively impact quality of life.
The 5 most prevalent types of arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). OA is often referred to as “wear and tear arthritis” because it occurs when the cartilage between the bones breaks down. When this happens, pain and swelling result and movement becomes impaired. Any joint can be affected by OA. However, it’s most common in the knees, hips, hands, neck and back. While OA can happen at any age, it’s most prevalent in women and individuals over 50.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. RA usually affects the knees, hands and ankles but other parts of the body can be affected as well. RA most frequently develops in middle age and is more common among women. RA may also be hereditary.
- Psoriatic Arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory disease that mostly affects the skin and joints. People with PsA often experience red, painful and itchy patches of skin with a silver/white cast. These patches usually occur on the scalp, elbows and knees. The joints most commonly affected by PsA are the knees, ankles, wrists and fingers.
- Gout: Gout is an inflammatory disease that’s most common among men, particularly men over 40. Typically starting in the big toe, gout results in sudden and intense pain. Other joints can be affected as well.
- Lupus: Lupus in an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation in any part of the body. Most commonly affected are the skin, joints and internal organs.
What causes arthritis?
While there is no single cause for every type of arthritis, there are a number of risk factors that can increase the chances of developing the disease.
– Excess weight – Being overweight or obese exerts extra stress on the joints and may increase the risk of arthritis.
– Genetics – Some types of arthritis are hereditary and you may be at a higher risk of arthritis if one of your parents or siblings has the condition.
– Gender – Some types of arthritis are more common in men or women. For example, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are more common in women whereas gout is more common in men.
– Age – There are many types of arthritis which become more prevalent in older age. These include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
– Joint injuries – Osteoarthritis is more likely to develop in a joint that was previously injured.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing persistent pain that’s interfering with daily activities, see your doctor. Diagnosing arthritis can be a lengthy task that often involves compiling health information and running tests. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, overall health, lifestyle and family history in addition to conducting a physical exam.
Your doctor may also order tests to help make a diagnosis. X-rays are most commonly used for imaging but an ultrasound or an MRI may be necessary. Your doctor may also choose to conduct other types of tests such as nerve, blood, fluid and tissue tests in order to help diagnose or to rule out specific types of arthritis.
How to manage Arthritis Pain?
Arthritis symptoms can often be managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and treatments. Be sure to work with your doctor to come up with a plan. Lifestyle changes can include:
- Get moving – Exercise can help reduce pain and improve range of motion. Work with your doctor or physical therapist to find an effective routine that eases stiffness without putting additional pressure on the joints.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Losing even a few pounds can alleviate stress on painful joints.
- Don’t smoke as smoking can increase arthritis-related pain.
How to treat arthritis pain?
Treatments can include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and Naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help provide pain relief but doesn’t address inflammation.
- Topical creams that contain ingredients such as capsaicin, lidocaine, menthol, salicylates, and diclofenac sodium (Dr. Scholl’s® Arthritis Pain Reliever) can be applied directly to painful areas for immediate relief.
- Corticosteroids may be prescribed in order to suppress the immune response that causes inflammation.
- Prescription medications such as opioids, biologics, immunosuppressants and prescription-strength NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be prescribed for severe pain that does not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers.