Arthritis: Symptoms, Causes, Types & Treatment
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect different joints of our body. By definition, arthritis means a disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of joints.
The human body contains 206 bones that are held together with approximately 300 joints. Most joints are synovial that allow movements such as fingers, toes, knees, wrists, hips, ankles and shoulders. Since movement causes friction between bones, these joints are surrounded by synovial fluid that acts as a lubricant to reduce friction.
Arthritis is a condition that inflames the joints along with the tendons and ligaments that hold them together causing discomfort and pain. Although it is difficult to determine the true number of people affected by arthritis as most people do not seek help until the pain is severe, nearly 350 million people are affected by arthritis globally.
> Types of Arthritis
Arthritis describes more than 100 conditions that affect the joints, and tissues surrounding the joints.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis across the globe. Osteoarthritis damages the cartilage in our joints causing friction and pain. Whereas Rheumatoid is an autoimmune disease triggering the immune system to attack healthy cells in the joints causing inflammation and pain. Gout is also a common type of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the blood affecting nearly 0.3% of the population in India.
> Causes of Arthritis
Depending on the type of arthritis the causes may vary. The most common causes include:
Physical injury due to a sport or accidents are likely to eventually lead to arthritis.
Wear and tear of joints caused by overuse.
Age can lead to osteoarthritis.
Genetics or family history may lead to osteoarthritis.
Obesity can lead to abnormal metabolism and cause gout.
Autoimmune disorders can lead to rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Some infection may trigger arthritis symptoms
> Symptoms of Arthritis
The most common symptoms of arthritis include stiffness and swelling of joints leading to severe pain. You might notice throbbing pain in your joints especially after waking up in the morning or after a prolonged resting period. The swelling and stiffness reduce the range of motion and makes daily activity like getting out of bed, or holding a cup very difficult. You may notice clicking or popping sounds while bending or other movements.
Depending on the type of arthritis, signs and symptoms may vary. For example, bony growths in fingers or grating feelings in the knees are symptoms of osteoarthritis. Stiffness and pain in multiple joints, fatigue with low-grade fever, inflammation of eyes and mouth, and low RBC count are symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Although arthritis is not ‘one solution fits all’ kind of a problem, medication and lifestyle changes can surely help reduce the pain and prevent additional damage to the joints.
You can maintain your functionality by treating arthritis with combination of:
Ibuprofen and salicylates, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can help you manage pain and inflammation. Similarly, Vicodin or Tylenol, are effective for reducing pain, but do not help with inflammation. You may opt for topical lotions such as capsaicin that block pain transmission signals from your joints. There are many steroids and immunosuppressants that are available over the counter however, they should be used cautiously. We recommend consulting your doctor and not self-medicating.
> Physical therapy
Physical therapy (PT) is usually part of the arthritis treatment plan that helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints and can help you manage symptoms better. The main goals of physical therapy are to improve mobility and restore the affected joints in order to preserve the ability to perform the daily activity.
PT is administered by a licensed physical therapist. A physical therapist specializing in arthritis teaches you specific exercises and techniques depending on your concerns and treatment goals. PT may include using weight machines, aerobic exercises or use other equipment such as resistance bands or foam rollers that can allow you to move with greater ease.
If physical therapy is not effective surgery is one option to treat arthritis. However, with surgery the pain may reduce, but functionality is subjective as arthritis is usually a chronic condition.
While knee and hip replacement surgeries are most common, success of the surgery in terms of pain reduction and improved mobility depends on the type of arthritis.
> Healthy nutrient-rich diet
Nutrient-rich diet is important for good health. Be sure to include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and nuts as they are full of antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. It is advisable to limit or avoid processed foods, fried food, meat and dairy products. Depending on your diet, your doctor may advise you to take additional supplements if required. It is best to get your diet vetted from your doctor before you make any sporadic additions.
Many plants and animal-based supplements claim to be beneficial for arthritis. However, there is not enough study on the effectiveness of these supplements. In general, these supplements are made of fish oil, turmeric, avocado and soybean which are rich in nutrients and safe to consume. However, we recommend seeking your doctor’s advice before adding any supplements to your diet.
> Regular exercise
Regular exercise to maintain moderate weight is beneficial for overall good health. If you are developing signs of arthritis, it is advisable to keep your weight in check. Stay active to maintain or improve your joint functions.
Walking and running are the best ways to stay active; however, these activities may put pressure on your joints. Swimming is often recommended as a good form of exercise for those who are suffering from arthritis. You may also do stretching and some basic exercises at home such as neck rotations, finger bends as well as leg raises and hamstring stretches regularly.
Improving your joint function through exercise to be able to conduct basic functions is important. We recommend speaking to a doctor for a treatment method best suited for you to achieve the desired results. If you wish to consult a doctor regarding arthritis or need a health check-up, please visit our website to book an appointment.