While arthritis is an incredibly common condition, there are nevertheless many misconceptions regarding this specific type of joint inflammation. As a result, many people may be subjecting themselves to unnecessary pain or treatments. Often, people believe that arthritis is limited only to the senior population, when actually many sufferers are between the ages of 18 and 64, according to the CDC. Another commonly mistaken belief is that OTC or prescription medicines are the only way to effectively gain relief from arthritis pain. Fortunately, understanding the basics can go a long way in managing arthritis.
What is arthritis?
According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), arthritis is a broad term for conditions afflicting the joints and surrounding tissues. Arthritis is defined by the Mayo Clinic as inflammation of one or more joints, leading to pain and stiffness.
The most commonly affected joints include the knees, wrists, fingers, toes, and hips. The CDC reports that over a third of all adults who suffer from arthritis state that it negatively impacts both work and recreational activities. A quarter of sufferers report severe, debilitating pain.
What are the most common types of arthritis?
While there are over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, the two common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of degenerate joint pain, and thus is more prevalent with increased age as the protective cartilage inside the joint wears down. This loss of cartilage typically results in pain and decreased joint mobility. Pain can also result from areas besides the cartilage, including the bone, synovium, and ligaments of the joint.
The second most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and can afflict people of all ages. As an autoimmune disease, RA is when the body’s immune system attacks itself, targeting the joints and other organs. Like other autoimmune diseases, RA goes after healthy tissue. In time, this chronic inflammation can permanently damage the joint.
What are the early warning signs of arthritis?
There are many subtle signs of arthritis that can be mistaken for everyday pains from over-activity or injury. However, distinguishing arthritis pain is imperative for proper management and treatment.
Osteoarthritis commonly begins with achy pain and tenderness, according to Healthline. Stiffness upon waking that mostly resolves upon movement is another indicator of early OA. As the cartilage wears down, unusual sensations and sounds in the joints may occur, such as grating, clicking, or cracking with movement. Decreased range of motion is also typical progression of OA.
With rheumatoid arthritis, there may be some similar or overlapping symptoms of OA, including stiffness in the morning or after periods of inactivity. Pain and decreased range of motion are also indicators. In addition, RA may present numbness, tingling, and burning, as the inflammation causes pressure on the nerves, according to Healthline. The joints may also slightly swell, and be warm to the touch. Other symptoms may also occur during the early progression of RA, including overall weakness and fatigue, dry mouth, scratchy and dry eyes, changes in sleeping patterns, and decreased appetite.
When to see a healthcare practitioner
As both OA and RA can lead to joint damage, seeking treatment sooner than later can help slow the progression of both forms of arthritis. A professional diagnosis by a doctor or qualified health professional usually includes consideration of each patient’s symptoms, a physical exam to check for swollen joints and evaluate range of motion, as well as blood tests and X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, says WebMD.
Prevention and holistic care for managing arthritis pain
A healthcare professional can help determine the best course of treatment based on individual needs, which may include a combination of medication, physical or occupational therapy, and lifestyle changes, says Harvard Health. For many arthritis sufferers, the latter can be the most effective.
There are many lifestyle practices that can help reduce the risk and delay the onset of arthritis as well as manage existing pain, says the Arthritis Foundation. One of the best ways is to maintain a healthy weight, as each extra pound causes four times the stress onto the knees and joints.
Staying active is another important consideration, notes Harvard Health. This includes not only regular exercise, but avoiding being sedentary for too long, whether working at a desk or relaxing on the couch. It is also important to recognize personal activity limits, and to avoid overexertion.
Following a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can also help manage arthritis. A Mediterranean style diet rich in fruits and leafy green vegetables, fatty fish like salmon, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and olive oil, all are excellent anti-inflammatory foods to regularly incorporate into the diet.