‘Arthritis’ is a very familiar term, but what is it exactly?
‘Athr-‘ refers to the joint, and ‘-itis’ refers to inflammation. Therefore, in the most basic definition of arthritis is that it is an inflammation of the joints. There are many different kinds of arthritis, but one of the most common types of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis is due to the wear and tear that happens at joints as we age. This often affects the cartilage of the joint (the cushion between two bones). Often, as the bone is worn down, the body tries to heal the bone, leading to bony spurs in the area. This can affect any joint, and often affects knees, shoulders, neck, back, and hands.
Things that can increase wear and tear on joints includes:
- Repetitive movements
- Activities with high intensity loading of the joints (like running)
- Previous injuries to the area
- Poor body mechanics/ poor posture
- Being overweight or obese
Another common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not completely understood, but is thought to be an autoimmune disease. This disease not only affects the joints, but can affect the whole body. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Morning stiffness (that lasts longer than one hour)
- Muscle aches
For a picture of the different structures involved in osteoarthritis versus rheumatoid arthritis, see here:
Did you know?:
There are over 100 different types of arthritis.
What Can Be Done?
The way that each person is affected by arthritis is widely varied. Some people have mild pain with a few activities. Others find that their daily tasks are significantly more difficult due to pain, weakness and decreased range of motion. Sometimes people feel that they are helpless to do anything about arthritis. They assume that since they are getting older, it’s naturally to gradually lose function.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
In mild to moderate cases of arthritis, pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis can often be well controlled to completely controlled through exercise, stretching and good understanding of appropriate body mechanics. Even in severe cases, exercise and activity can be used to significantly decrease pain and improve function.
Physical therapists can also use manual therapy to help improve range of motion and decrease pain. Other conservative treatment options include medication, and injections such as cortisone. When pain and function still are not within manageable limits, surgery can be another option.