Under the Umbrella of Arthritis
Arthritis is a word that conjures up an almost universal image in our minds: twisted, swollen, painful joints. Arthritis is a common condition, but it isn’t a singular disease.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 100 different conditions fall under the umbrella of “arthritis.”
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an umbrella term used to label various conditions that cause inflammation, or swelling, in the joints and the surrounding tissues. A joint is a point in the body where bones meet other bones, such as fingers, toes, knees, elbows and hips. Arthritis can develop at any age but is most often seen in senior populations.
There are three main types of arthritis.
This is the most common type of arthritis, and the type most often diagnosed in the elderly. Osteoarthritis (OA) begins with wearing away of cartilage, the cushioning between bones in a joint. When cartilage thins and becomes ragged, symptoms of OA begin to appear.
This form of arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means the body’s immune system begins to attack the body itself. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA,) the body’s immune system begins attacking the lining of a joint or joints. This results in inflammation in the joints.
This form of arthritis is one of the more painful. When gout hits, crystals of uric acid collect in the joint spaces and/or the connective tissues. This buildup of crystals causes the excruciating pain associated with this form of arthritis.
Regardless of the type of arthritis, the array of symptoms is generally the same.
- Joint warmth and/or swelling
- Redness and tenderness in the joint
- “Locking” of the joint
- Stiffness, in a specific joint(s) or generalized throughout the body
- Decrease or complete loss of normal joint range of motion
Early Warning Signs of Arthritis
Arthritis can begin at any age but tends to be an insidious condition that many sufferers feel actually “sneaked up” on them. There are early warning signs for arthritis that no one over the age of 55 should ignore. Unfortunately, too many are not aware of the correlation between these sometimes vague, isolated symptoms and arthritis.
Generalized stiffness in the mornings
Everyone feels stiffness in the morning at some point. However, if you find yourself unable to move easily for 30 minutes or more, even after stretching and getting moving, you may need to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Climbing stairs causes pain.
Experiencing jolts of pain or your knee joint “locking up” when bending the knee or going up or down stairs should be a red flag that something is not right.
Fatigue and/or flu-like symptoms
This is actually a set of symptoms that may come on suddenly or gradually. Together, they make up an early warning sign that arthritis may be building in your joints. These symptoms include persistent fever, usually low grade, that continues for weeks, chronic fatigue, decreased appetite with weight loss, anemia and stiffness and pain in one or more joints.
Sudden, intense pain in a big toe or other foot joint
Sudden swelling, tenderness and excruciating pain in a foot joint, especially a big toe, is probably signaling an attack of gout. The affected joint may be hot to the touch, appear red and rate a “10” on a pain scale. This is the second-most common form of arthritis.
Hard bumps on fingers
These enlarged bumps on the joints of the fingers are usually bony spurs. These knobby bumps are indicative of arthritis setting in. The joint may feel stiff but may not necessarily be painful. These bony spurs may sometimes appear on the toes, as well.
Pain that disrupts sleep
Arthritis pain is the result of cartilage erosion, eventually causing bone to rub against bone. This can be extremely painful; it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep or wake you up in the middle of the night with joint pain.
Aching, stiff hands that don’t seem to work anymore
The creeping pain of developing arthritis can make it hard to do simple tasks, such as tying shoelaces, buttoning your shirt, turning the key in the door lock, using a fork and knife, turning a doorknob or snapping your fingers.
Pain, of course, is one of the first signs that a problem is brewing. But paying attention to these other early signs that arthritis may be setting in can expedite a proper diagnosis.
Prevention and Relief
Certain risk factors for arthritis are unavoidable, such as a family history or genetic profile, age or previous joint injury. Other risk factors are more easily managed, either through lifestyle changes and/or medications to delay the onset of arthritis or prevent it altogether.
Until we find a cure for arthritis, the following measures may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of this disease:
- Weight loss will reduce the stress on weight-bearing joints. This can improve mobility and prevent joint injury.
- Exercise on a regular basis can keep joints flexible. Activities such as swimming or water aerobics can make use of natural buoyancy to relieve stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Utilizing heating pads or ice packs can decrease the pain of arthritic joints.
- Using assistive devices such as canes, walkers, handrails on stairs, raised toilet seats and modified eating utensils can help protect the joints.
There are alternative medicine remedies that may help prevent or alleviate the discomfort of arthritis. Remedies such as acupuncture, glucosamine supplements, massage therapy or regimens such as yoga or tai chi may help improve joint flexibility and increase joint range of motion.
Contact us for more information on management or prevention of arthritis!