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Arthritis: Everything You Should Know About Joint Disorders

Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain and stiffness that can worsen with age.

Arthritis mostly results in joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness, affecting individuals of all backgrounds and making daily tasks difficult.

Treatment involves using medications, exercises, and lifestyle adjustments to enhance joint function and alleviate discomfort, although a cure is not known.

Overall knowledge of arthritis, including its diagnosis and available treatments, is important for individuals dealing with this health condition.

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis refers to inflammation affecting one or more joints in the body and may cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and reduced mobility at the affected site. Arthritis develops over time through a series of slow and progressive changes, causing cartilage loss and eventually bone damage.

Types of Arthritis

Most common types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Gout
  • Juvenile Arthritis

An accurate diagnosis of the arthritis type is essential to a successful treatment plan for the condition since distinct forms exhibit unique traits, progress at varying rates, and stem from different causes.

By identifying the specific form of arthritis, healthcare providers can tailor treatments, including medication, physiotherapy, or lifestyle changes, to accurately address the unique characteristics of the arthritis type to optimize recovery and avoid complications.

There are six types of arthritis each with separate causes and symptoms.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis that affects many individuals across the globe. Although science has identified certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing Osteoarthritis, modern evidence is still unsure of exactly how this condition occurs and why it affects certain individuals more than others.

Osteoarthritis Common Causes

Some common causes and risk factors that are known for Osteoarthritis include:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Joint Injury/Overuse
  • Obesity
  • Joint Misalignment
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Chronic Systemic Inflammation
  • Mental and Emotional Chronic Stress
  • Joint Infections

There are multiple factors and combinations of factors that can lead to Osteoarthritis; however the exact cause is unknown as the condition is complex and unique in each individual.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Joint Pain: Pain that worsens with excessive movement and joint stress and may be more chronic in the later stages of arthritis.

Joint Stiffness: Arthritic joints often feel stiff and uncomfortable to move. Joint stiffness is a common symptom of Osteoarthritis.

Reduced Mobility and Range of Motion: In advanced cases of arthritis where bony changes have occurred, reduced mobility and range of motion can occur as the specific joint loses its full range of motion due to extra bone formation.

Formation of Extra Bone (Bone Spurs): Bone spurs are extra bone growth that results when a joint is under stress. The extra bone growth results in pain and discomfort and can lead to a reduction of mobility and range of motion.

Joint Swelling: Swelling of an arthritic joint is a symptom of osteoarthritis and can indicate that a particular joint is inflamed and requires rest.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis with an autoimmune origin. In this type of arthritis, the body’s defense mechanism attacks its joint, causing inflammation, pain, and joint damage, particularly in the hands and fingers on both sides.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Common Causes

Here are some common factors associated with the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Joint Pain and Swelling: Swelling and joint pain, as well as finger and hand deformity, are common in Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA is notorious for affecting the small joints of the hand, wrist, and sometimes the feet as well.

Morning Stiffness: Morning stiffness in the hands and fingers is common with RA, and it can last for a few hours. RA stiffness worsens with inactivity and improves as one goes on about their day and uses their hands more.

Fatigue: RA is an inflammatory condition. Therefore, generalized fatigue is a common symptom as the body fights off the inflammation.

Joint Stiffness and Reduced Mobility: Joint stiffness is common in RA, especially morning stiffness due to long periods of inactivity during sleep.

Rheumatoid Nodules: RA nodules are firm lumps under the skin, often near joints, but can also appear in other areas of the body.

Fever and Weight Loss: These symptoms are rare, but in severe cases of RA, one can experience fever and weight loss, particularly when the disease is in a severe inflammatory stage.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) is an arthritis type that results from the body’s immune system attacking healthy cells and tissue by mistake.

This initiation of an immune response causes inflammation of the joints and excess production of skin cells. The development of Psoriatic Arthritis appears to be influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

For example, individuals who have PsA also tend to have a family history of psoriasis or Psoriatic Arthritis, and research has found specific genetic markers to be linked to this type of arthritis.

Psoriatic Arthritis Common Causes

Some of the risk factors that can increase the chances of Psoriatic Arthritis include but are not limited to the following:

  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin condition where skin cells build up quickly, causing thick, red patches covered in silvery scales. Having psoriasis significantly increases the chances of developing PsA.
  • Family History
  • Age: Psoriatic Arthritis can develop at any age; however, it is most commonly seen in adults ages 30-55.
  • Environment: Environmental factors, like infection or stress, can lead to Psoriatic Arthritis, especially in individuals who have a family history of PsA.
An elder's hand suffering from psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms

  • Joint Pain and Swelling
  • Psoriasis Symptoms
  • Enthesitis
  • Dactylitis
  • Nail Changes
  • Stiffness and Reduced Range of Motion

Gout

Gout is considered a type of arthritis that results from the buildup of a specific metabolite in the body called Purine.

Purine is a metabolic byproduct and is in higher saturation levels in certain foods such as red meat, seafood, and some vegetables like Spinach, Asparagus, and mushroom.

Excessive Purine levels in the blood result in the buildup of uric acid crystals that accumulate in the joint, causing severe pain, redness, swelling, and joint immobility. Aside from diet, Gout also has some other common causes, which we will discuss below.

Gout Common Causes

  • Diet: Purine-rich foods such as red meat, seafood, certain vegetables (asparagus, spinach, and mushrooms), beer, and spirits can raise uric acid levels.
  • Obesity: Having an excess body weight, particularly abdominal obesity, is linked to an increased risk of developing Gout, and that is because fatty tissue increases uric acid production and reduces its excretion.
  • Genetics: Gout is more likely in families, as it can be passed down through genes. Some people may have a genetic tendency that makes them more prone to high uric acid levels and Gout.
  • Kidney Function: Healthy kidneys remove uric acid from the body. If the kidneys are not working well, as in chronic kidney disease, less uric acid is expelled, increasing the risk of Gout.
  • Medications: Certain meds increase the risk of uric acid build-up
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol Consumption
  • Certain Health Procedures
  • Trauma or Surgery

Gout Symptoms

Intense Joint Pain: Sudden and severe pain is a hallmark of Gout, specifically affecting the big toe.

Swelling: Swelling combined with pain is very common in Gout, and the affected joint will feel puffy and red to the naked eye.

Warmth and Redness: The inflammation may cause increased warmth and redness at the affected site.

Limited Mobility: Due to the pain, swelling, and inflammation, movement of the joint will be affected, causing limited mobility.

Recurrent Attacks: Repeated gout attacks may occur over time. Therefore, if Gout develops, it is helpful to consider certain lifestyle changes to avoid future recurrent attacks.

Other Joint Involvement: Although the big toe is the most common site for a gout attack, other joints such as knees, ankles, wrists, and fingers may also experience an attack.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a lasting health issue found in kids under 16. It happens when joints get inflamed, leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness. JIA can also impact other body parts like the eyes, skin, and organs inside the body.

Juvenile Arthritis Causes

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its cells and tissues. It’s not known why this happens, but both heredity and environment seem to play a role.

Some forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are more common in girls.

The causes of JIA are not known. Factors that may be involved, alone or in combination, include genetics (the disease may be inherited), infection, and environmental factors that influence the immune system.

Juvenile Arthritis Symptoms

Joint Pain: Persistent pain in the joints, often accompanied by swelling. Swelling: Joints may appear swollen and feel warm to the touch.

Stiffness: Children may experience stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

Fever: Some children might experience intermittent fever that can accompany arthritis flares.

Fatigue: Persistent tiredness or lack of energy that isn’t easily explained.

Rash: Some types of juvenile arthritis may cause a rash, particularly systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Limping: Children may develop a limp due to joint pain or stiffness.

Limited Range of Motion: Difficulty in moving a joint fully due to pain and swelling.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a long-lasting condition that can make the spine less flexible and can even cause some of the bones in the spine to fuse.

Over time, this can make it difficult to move and bend. Ankylosing Spondylitis may also affect other parts of the body, such as the hips, shoulders, and knees.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing the disease. These factors include:

  • Family history and genetics
  • Age
  • Other conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis 

Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

The most common symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis include:

  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Eye inflammation
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Shortened stride
  • Painful heels
  • Weight loss

How Arthritis is Diagnosed?

Different methods are used by doctors to diagnose arthritis. These methods include but not limited to:

  • Xray imaging
  • CT and MRI scans
  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Laboratory tests
  • Biopsy 
Doctor holding patient's hand and trying to diagnose her arthritis type.

Arthritis can be detected on a physical exam which can help your practitioners determine the severity of the arthritis.

Furthermore, there are several other diagnostic methods for assessing the exact severity of the arthritic joint and to determine the type of arthritis present. 

How is Arthritis Treated?

Arthritis treatment depends on the type of your condition and the severity of your symptoms. However, some general treatment options include:

  • Medication
  • Chiropractic
  • Physical Therapy
  • Therapeutic Injections
  • Acupuncture
  • Heat and Cold
  • Massage
  • Natural Remedies
  • Exercise
  • Surgery
  • TENS

It is crucial to get proper arthritis treatment, so your arthritic pain is managed. It can help reduce pain, inflammation, and joint damage. It also helps maintain mobility, improve quality of life, and prevent future complications.

Conservative (nonsurgical) Treatments

Conservative treatments for arthritis include medications, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, therapeutic injections, massage, acupuncture, and heat and cold therapy.

Often, a combination of these treatment options is employed together to get the best results. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of conservative treatments can vary among individuals.

Hence, a personalized and multidisciplinary approach to addressing the diverse nature of arthritis is key.

Medications

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). 
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine.
  • Biologic Response Modifiers (Biologics) such as adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), and infliximab (Remicade) are usually prescribed for autoimmune forms of arthritis. 
  • Corticosteroids are often used for short-term relief to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms quickly. 
  • Analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) are used to help with pain management associated with arthritis. 
  • Topical Medications, including creams, gels, or patches containing NSAIDs or capsaicin, may be applied directly to the skin over affected joints to provide localized relief. 

Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractors use a hands-on approach to alleviate arthritis symptoms, incorporating techniques such as adjustments, joint mobilization, and soft tissue manipulation as part of the treatment.

Additionally, they may provide tailored exercises and recommend lifestyle modifications to enhance the overall effectiveness of the treatment.

Usually, a multidisciplinary approach that combines chiropractic care with conventional medical treatments provides a more effective strategy for managing arthritis symptoms.

Dr. Sabbaghan working on a patient's neck in a chiropractic treatment session.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is used to improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance the overall function of joints. Physiotherapists often employ a variety of techniques, including exercises and manual therapy, to address specific issues related to arthritis.

The goal is to optimize joint health, promote flexibility, and improve an individual’s quality of life.

Been Diagnosed with Arthritis? What to Do Now?

If you have been diagnosed with arthritis and are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, make sure you consult with your medical providers to understand the severity of your arthritis better, so they can help manage your arthritic pain.

Although arthritis is not reversible, often you can help reduce the progression of the disease through an improved diet and appropriate exercise regime.

It is important to consult with a professional to help guide you through this process and to give you the resources you need to feel confident managing your arthritis as it pertains to your day-to-day life and activities.

Arthritis is a broad term for joint inflammation and there are more than 100 types of arthritis. However, some of the more common types include:

  • Osteoarthritis: Often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, it affects the cartilage in your joints.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis: Linked to the skin condition psoriasis, it can cause joint pain and inflammation alongside skin issues.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis: Primarily affects the spine, causing inflammation and stiffness.
  • Gout: Sudden and severe joint pain often caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals.
  • Juvenile Arthritis: Arthritis affecting children under 16 years old.
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