It seems as we age that a bit of slowing down is inevitable. Most people expect to wake each morning with stiffness and a few aches and pains. Arthritis is a very common product of old age, with at least three million people diagnosed with arthritis every year in the U.S. However, arthritis isn’t just for the aging. And, if you’re suffering you don’t need to simply accept that you’ll always be in pain. Here’s what you need to know about causes of arthritis and treatments.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that is characterized by inflammation of one or more joints. Symptoms ranges in severity from moderate to severe and in its late stages can be crippling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of adults 65 and older have been diagnosed as suffering from arthritis.
Types of arthritis
There are over 100 different types of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, a condition that is caused by gradual wear-and-tear of the joints, is the most common.
Another common type—rheumatoid arthritis—is not caused by deterioration. Instead, this is caused by an auto-immune disorder that causes the body to attack its own tissues. This causes the inflammation, pain, and deterioration common to arthritic disorders.
Similarly, psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs most often in people with psoriasis (another autoimmune disorder).
Facet joint arthritis occurs in the facet joints of the spine and can be a result of injury or simply wear-and-tear over time.
Other more common types of arthritis include gout and juvenile arthritis.
Arthritis risk factors
Obesity is often a factor in osteoarthritis, as it causes additional stress to weight-bearing joints in the body (e.g., hips and knees).
For wear-and-tear types of arthritis, age is a main risk factor, as well-used joints simply get worn as we get older.
Other common risk factors include:
- Injury to the joint
- Occupational hazards (e.g., repetitive motion)
- Infections in or around the joint
- Intense, frequent sports activity (e.g., long-distance running)
What are arthritis treatments?
As of yet, no cure for arthritis exists; however, there are medications, procedures, and treatments that can alleviate some of the pain caused by it.
Treatments are generally non- to minimally-invasive and are conservative in nature. Arthritis may not have a cure, but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to a life with pain. There is help.
Consistent, low-impact exercise is the best way to maintain overall health and minimize the impact of this condition. Movement keeps your joints flexible, fluid, and extended through their fullest possible range of motion.
Walking, yoga, and swimming are among the best exercises for those who suffer from arthritis as these activities are low-impact. The side benefit of exercise can be weight loss (or maintaining a healthy weight), which decreases stress on the joints.
Physical therapy sessions with a specially trained therapist can help develop exercises and stretching that are specifically tailored to your unique abilities and pain level.
This type of non-invasive therapy can be especially useful when you combine it with other treatments, such as surgery or joint injections.
Braces, accommodations, and other helpful tools
Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, and braces and other accommodations or comforts for arthritis can help you get your life back. For example, when hands are cold, warming gloves can bring comfort and ease stiffness.
Arthritis aids may not relieve pain or improve your overall symptoms, but they can help with everything from getting dressed to making dinner.
A variety of home remedies for arthritis can also provide relief and help with swelling and inflammation.
These include things like:
- Transdermal magnesium
- Essential oils
- Heat therapy
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
Some patients find relief with acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine that stimulates the energy meridians of the body to promote healing.
There are virtually no side effects to this treatment, so even if you are skeptical it can be worth a try before moving to more invasive treatments.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
The first-line of treatment for most forms of arthritis includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, otherwise known as NSAIDs. This includes ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.
NSAIDs can alleviate chronic inflammation and pain. Typically you should use it only for short-term flare-ups of pain.
Many arthritis patients have seen an improvement in their pain with joint injections.
These consist of a corticosteroid injection that may reduce inflammation and pain in the joint. In some cases, you’ll need a series of injections for relief.
Depending on the injection, the type of arthritis, and the severity, you can repeat joint injections to improve your range of motion in your joints. Combine these with physical therapy as well so you have the ability to undergo strengthening exercises with less pain.
Medial branch blocks
Medial branch blocks may help those who suffer from back and neck pain due to this condition (including facet joint arthritis, one of the leading causes of lower back pain in adults).
A medial branch block effectively reduces inflammation and irritation in the joints of the spine, and relief from pain is often immediate. Your doctor can perform medial branch blocks multiple times to help manage your pain.
In severe cases and after exhausting more conservative options, you may find relief through full joint replacement.
By replacing the damaged joint with a plastic or metal prosthesis, you may experience a pain-free lifestyle, resuming activities that were previously impossible due to pain.
While knee and hip replacements are the most common, medical technology has advanced to allow for shoulder joint replacements, elbow joint replacements, and finger joint replacements.
While a replacement surgery may relieve pain, recovery time post-surgery is often long and can have complications that are non-existent with less invasive options. Because of this, it’s always best to try less invasive options before undergoing surgery.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website: http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm
- Mayo Clinic Website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoarthritis/DS00019