Arthritis is a debilitating condition that can make everyday activities, such as walking and dressing, excruciating. It affects millions of people of all ages, causing joint stiffness, swelling, and weakness. There are different types of arthritis, with the most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Although there is no cure for arthritis, treatments can help lessen the symptoms and improve the quality of life. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about arthritis.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a broad term covering over 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions affecting joints, the tissues around the joints, and other connective tissues. The CDC estimates one in four U.S. adults, or over 58 million people in the U.S., have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Although it's more common in older adults, with about 50% of all diagnoses being 65 or older, it's not limited to seniors. Nearly 30% of people with arthritis are aged 45 to 64.
Types of arthritis
With over 100 different types of arthritis, it's challenging to understand them all. Here are the most common types:
This is the most common type, affecting about 33 million Americans. It happens when the protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears down. It's also possible after a traumatic injury, such as a fracture. Although it can occur in any joint, it's most common in the knees, hips, back, and hands.
This chronic inflammatory disorder affects about 1.3 million Americans, most often women between the ages of 40 and 60. The immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues, causing joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.
The cause of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis. Some factors can also determine the cause. These include:
As you age, the cartilage in your joints becomes thinner and starts to wear down. Not all types of arthritis are in older people. Several forms of arthritis affect children — such as psoriatic arthritis, which is a form of psoriasis. These are often referred to as juvenile arthritic conditions.
A joint injury can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis later on.
Being overweight or obese puts extra stress on your joints, leading to arthritis.
Other conditions, such as lupus and fibromyalgia have a high occurrence of osteoarthritis.
Infections, such as parvovirus, can lead to arthritis. These are more common in children than adults. Another example is septic arthritis, which follows a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.
The symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the type. However, the most common symptoms include:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Swelling in the joints
- Redness or warmth in the joints
- Limited range of motion
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They may come and go, or may be persistent.
Arthritis has three stages. These determine the severity of the condition and how it will progress.
In stage one, there is minimal joint damage. The symptoms are also mild and come and go. You may not even know you have arthritis at this stage. Treatment during phase one can help slow the progression of joint damage.
In stage two, there is moderate joint damage. The symptoms are more severe and more frequent. You may have difficulty doing everyday activities, such as walking or dressing. The sooner you start treatment in stage two, the better the chances of slowing joint damage.
In stage three, there is severe joint damage. The symptoms are constant and can be extremely painful. It isn't easy to perform everyday activities, and you may need help with them. Treatment at this stage focuses on relieving pain and improving your quality of life.
Depending on the stage you are in, treatment for arthritis varies.
Stage 1 Arthritis Treatment:
The goal of treatment in stage one is to slow the progression of joint damage and relieve symptoms. This can be done through:
Losing weight takes stress off your joints and can help relieve symptoms.
Exercise strengthens the muscles around your joints and can help improve your range of motion.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and inflammation.
If over-the-counter medications don't work, your doctor may prescribe a stronger prescription, such as celecoxib, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Corticosteroid injections can help reduce inflammation and pain. These are usually only used for a short time because they can cause joint damage if used too long.
Stage 2 Arthritis Treatment:
The goal of treatment in stage two is to slow the progression of joint damage and relieve symptoms. Along with stage 1 treatment, stage 2 treatment may also include:
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs):
DMARDs can slow the progression of joint damage. These are usually only used if other treatments haven't worked.
Biologic DMARDs are a newer type of DMARD. They work by targeting the immune system.
If other treatments haven't worked, joint surgery may be an option. Joint surgery can help improve the range of motion and relieve pain. Arthroscopic surgery is minimally invasive and can treat arthritis by removing damaged tissue.
Stage 3 Arthritis Treatment:
The goal of treatment in stage three is to relieve pain and improve your quality of life. Besides the treatments from stage one and stage two, ways to relieve pain and improve your quality of life may include:
A physical therapist can help you strengthen the muscles around your joints and improve your range of motion.
An occupational therapist can teach you ways to do everyday activities with less pain.
Your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication, such as an opioid, to help relieve your pain.
This is a surgery that fuses bones to improve joint function. It's usually only an option if other treatments haven't worked.
Total ankle replacement:
This surgery replaces the bones in your ankle joint with artificial ones and is usually a last resort, when other therapies have failed.
Your foot and ankle surgeon will work with you to determine the best treatment for your arthritis.
Arthritis is a progressive condition, which means it gets worse. The severity of arthritis varies from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms that don't impede their everyday activities. Others have severe symptoms that make it difficult to do daily activities. There is no cure for arthritis, but there are treatments that can help slow the progression of joint damage and relieve pain.
Arthritis can lead to complications, such as:
Severe arthritis can limit your ability to move around. This can make it difficult to do everyday activities, such as cooking and cleaning.
Severe arthritis can cause your joints to become misshapen.
Arthritis can cause chronic (long-lasting) pain. This can make it difficult to sleep and can lead to depression.
Arthritis can make you feel tired all the time. This can make it challenging to do your usual activities.
If you're living with arthritis, we want to help. Sign up or download the Antidote Health app and see a clinician without insurance who can help manage your condition. We can connect you with telehealth services, in-person care, and more.