Our bodies are amazing machines that outperform and outlast even the most advanced technology. But like a car or a washing machine, over time, things in our body break down. For some of us, it’s our joints and the tissues that hold them together – otherwise known as arthritis.
Arthritis isn’t just one type of pain or problem: in fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis that affect the joints, the tissues around the joint, and other connective tissue of the body. The most common types of arthritis in adults includes:
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is usually thought of as “wear and tear” arthritis and most frequently occurs in the hands, knees, and hips. It is often caused by injury, overuse, or repetitive stress on a joint.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a condition in which your immune system attacks healthy cells, producing painful inflammation. RA sufferers commonly experience pain in their hands, wrists, and knees, but RA can also affect the lungs, heart, and eyes.
- Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis where pain doesn’t just affect one or two places in the body – it can produce pain and stiffness all over the body, along a general feeling of being “run down” or tired.
- Gout is another form of arthritis that causes intense pain and usually affects only one joint at a time – most commonly, the big toe. Because of this, people with gout sometimes experience difficulty walking.
Who Gets Arthritis?
Arthritis is most frequently seen in adults over the age of 65, but it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults.
Women are slightly more likely to suffer from arthritis than men – about one in four women have been diagnosed, compared to roughly one in five men. Some of the reasons for this are related to hormones; while some are related to the fact that, statistically speaking, women are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is a significant risk factor.
Those carrying extra weight are at higher risk for arthritis. Quite simply, the more weight that’s put on a joint, the more stressed it becomes. In fact, every pound of extra weight translates into 4 pounds of extra pressure on your knees. So if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re forcing 200 extra pounds of pressure on your knees. Additionally, fat itself can trigger inflammation in the body, making both OA and RA worse.
Smokers have increased risks for both RA and OA. In addition, they suffer worse pain than non-smokers; and, in the event they need joint replacement surgery, smokers have higher rates of complication and worse outcomes, compared to nonsmokers.
How Arthritis Differs from Other Aches and Pains
Unfortunately, as we age, many of us don’t feel as energetic as we once did, and our bodies may be slower to recuperate from exercise, stress, or fatigue. There are a few telltale signs that indicate it might be something more than just ‘overdoing it:
- Warmth or heat in the area of the affected joint
- Rash near the affected joint
- Grinding sensation
Unlike muscle strain or fatigue, arthritis doesn’t just go away: in fact, undiagnosed and untreated arthritis can result in permanent changes and damage to your joints.
If you have some of the joint symptoms described above that last for three days or more, or several different episodes of joint pain within a month, go see a doctor. Start with your general practitioner or family doctor; after which you may be referred to a specialist called a rheumatologist.
Treatments for Arthritis
Because there are so many different types of arthritis, there are different ways to treat it. Treatment usually focuses on self-care and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend a home care program or send you to physical therapy.
Arthritis treatment may include medication, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, but some patients may require doctor-prescribed medication to help deal with pain or suppress inflammation. Those with advanced cases of arthritis may need to take medication that protect the joints or strengthen the bones.
In advanced cases, surgery to replace the affected joints (typically the knee or hip) is an option. The good news is that these surgeries have very high success rates, and the artificial joints can last a lifetime.
Protecting Yourself from Arthritis
Like many other conditions, arthritis is something that runs in families. But there are steps you can take to cut your risk for developing this painful condition.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
- Eat a healthful diet
- If you have gout, eat chicken and healthy fish instead of beef, pork, and organ meats
- Avoid (excessive consumption of) alcohol
- Keep moving! Even a little exercise can be enough to keep you flexible and energized and avoiding exercise can leave you feeling stiff or weak. If you’ve never exercised or haven’t exercised in a while, check with your doctor first.
If you have pain that you think may be arthritis, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. If you catch it in the early stages, your doctor can suggest some simple lifestyle changes that can keep you moving and feeling healthy for years to come. If you don’t already have a doctor, find your nearest AltaMed location and give them a call.