Arthritis and You: An Overview
By Beverly Matoney Medically reviewed by Kyle Aldinger, MD, Shelby Medical Associates
This word conjures up visions of seniors moving slowly, perhaps hunched over a cane or struggling to open a stubborn jar lid. Maybe this word pops into your mind when you feel a twinge of pain in your knee after you climb up the stairs. Or how about when your elbow or shoulder feels stiff when you first get up in the morning.
Arthritis is a word that covers many similar diseases, but all of them have one thing in common: pain and swelling in one or more areas in your body where two bones meet.
What does it feel like to have arthritis in your joints?
Well, that depends on which kind of arthritis you have, mechanical or inflammatory. This article will help you understand more about both kinds.
Osteoarthritis is considered a mechanical, or degenerative arthritis, meaning the cartilage between your joints just wears out over time. This form of arthritis usually affects those big joints that do a lot of work, such as your knees, your hips, or your lower back. But sometimes it can also cause pain in your fingers and toes or even your neck, particularly if you’ve had a previous injury in that location.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as pain and stiffness, typically come on slowly. It may seem like not too long ago you were able to dash up the stairs with no problems, and then suddenly you realize that you have been feeling an ache in your knee or hip and you wonder…do I have arthritis?
As the cartilage slowly wears away as you age, your bones have no cushion and can grate against one another at the joints, which causes you pain and swelling. Often these symptoms are worse when you first wake up in the morning, and your joints can feel stiff and difficult to get moving.
Often the pain comes to the joint when you’ve used it a lot, say after a long period of walking or standing, or from inactivity, such as sitting for a while.
And sometimes, you can even predict the weather! Although having achy joints before a rain storm is not always a fun thing to experience.
Osteoarthritis can also limit the range of motion you once had in your affected joint. And since it’s a chronic condition, this means it may continue to worsen over time.
In order for you to stay as active as possible for as long as possible, it’s important for you to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and early treatment to relieve the symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes the lining around your joints (synovium) to swell. This swelling causes joint damage over time. A telling symptom, along with pain and swelling, is early morning stiffness in the joints that takes a long while to work out.
You can also feel numbness or tingling. The disease most often begins in the small joints of the fingers and toes. Sometimes the very first symptoms feel like you have the flu.
This type of arthritis is symmetrical, meaning that if one of your joints, say your finger, is affected, the same finger on the other hand will also experience pain and swelling. And the disease is systemic, which means that you can experience other symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, or shortness of breath.
While osteoarthritis is considered an age-related disease because it develops as you get older, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can appear much earlier, and is an autoimmune disease. Your immune system should be protecting you from outside invaders, but instead it attacks your joints and organs.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also a chronic condition, and can’t be cured or reversed. Early diagnosis and treatment of symptoms with medication can help ease your joint pain, reduce joint damage, slow the progression of the disease, and keep you active.
Psoriatic arthritis is another type of inflammatory arthritis that, along with joint pain and swelling, can also cause rashes, eye pain and redness.
How Will My Doctor Determine Which Arthritis I Have?
When you come into Shelby Medical Associates to be evaluated for your symptoms, your doctor will ask you questions about your pain and swelling, and where it is located, when the symptoms first began, and if you previously injured the joint.
There are blood tests that can indicate the level of inflammation in your body, which can help your doctor correctly diagnose your symptoms. The kind of arthritis you have will determine the type of treatments your physician will prescribe.
Your doctor may also order an image of your joint using an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. This image will also help to eliminate other possible causes of your joint pain.
How Can I Relieve My Arthritis Symptoms?
Arthritis pain can be mild and irritating or severe and agonizing. There are several treatment options to help ease your arthritis symptoms so you can remain active.
Heating pads for pain and ice packs for swelling can provide a measure of comfort at home. Try alternating heat and cold until you find what works best for your symptoms.
Prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce the pain and swelling associated with arthritis. You can also find topical creams containing menthol, wintergreen, or capsaicin that can help.
In addition, prescriptions for corticosteroids to reduce inflammation are available if you have rheumatoid arthritis, as well as drugs that suppress your immune system to ease symptoms and reduce further joint damage.
Physical Therapy And Supportive Devices
You may need to wear a special brace on your affected joint or use crutches or a walker if your mobility is limited, or to keep weight off the affected joint. Staying active is important to help with your range of motion, and physical therapy can help ease the pain and swelling in the joint.
If the joint damage is severe, you may need surgery to replace it, maybe your knee or hip, or to scrape away bone damage, such as in your lower back. Once the surgery is performed, your pain should lessen.
What Else Can You Do To Help Ease Your Arthritis Symptoms?
If you are overweight, the extra pounds put stress on your joints and can put you at a higher risk for developing arthritis and hasten joint damage if you already have it. Losing weight can help reduce your risk for or slow the progression of arthritis.
By adding foods that help with inflammation and avoiding those that cause it, your daily diet can help ease pain and swelling in your joints.
Eat more foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants, plus fish and nuts, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, both of which can reduce inflammation.
Include glucosamine in your diet to help keep the cartilage between your joints healthy.
Get plenty of vitamin D, to help with your immune system, by taking a supplement in the dosage your doctor recommends, or going out in the sun at least 15 minutes a day.
Stay away from fried foods, foods with lots of sugar or salt or are highly processed, and dairy foods. And don’t eat large amounts of red meat. All of these foods can pack on the pounds, as well as contribute to joint inflammation.
Eating well can help you lose weight, and so can staying active. Swimming is a great exercise to help ease joint pain and swelling, as well as aiding you in shedding unwanted pounds. If your mobility allows, try walking, chair aerobics, or yoga poses that help with flexibility.
What Can I Expect If I Have Arthritis?
Since arthritis is a chronic condition, it can’t be cured. But with the right diagnosis and treatment, plus a few lifestyle changes, you can slow the progression of this disease and minimize your symptoms.
To keep your pain and inflammation at bay, follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor. Be aware of the foods you eat, and try to stay as active as possible.
If you suspect you have or are developing degenerative or inflammatory arthritis, call your doctor. At Shelby Medical Associates, we want to help you live your life to the fullest.
Take care of you. Take care of yours. We’ll be here to help you with both.