Are you suffering from ongoing joint pain? Do you have joint swelling and/or stiffness, tenderness or pain when touching a joint, problems using or moving a joint normally or warmth and redness in a joint? If you answered yes to some of these questions, you might have some type of arthritis. If any one of these symptoms lasts more than two weeks, see your regular doctor or a rheumatologist. If you have a fever, feel physically ill, suddenly have a swollen joint, or have problems using your joint, see your doctor right away.
Arthritis – The Basics
- Arthritis actually is not a single disease but an informal way of referring to pain or disease at the joints, which are places in the body where bones come together. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions.
- Arthritis affects people of all ages, sexes and races and is the leading cause of disability in America. More than 50 million adults – 1 in 5 people over the age of 18 – and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people age.
- Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years, but may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby finger joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray. The parts of the body that are most often affected include the hand, spine, hip, and knee. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and skin as well as the joints.
There are steps you can take to help manage your arthritis symptoms. The United States Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:
- Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP): an effective self-management program for people with chronic health problems, including arthritis, diabetes, lung and heart disease. Developed by Stanford University, the program is held in community settings and uses workshops led by people who have personal experience with chronic disease. The CDSMP provides techniques for dealing with problems associated with chronic disease and addresses appropriate exercise and medication use, communicating effectively with family, friends and health professionals, nutrition and how to evaluate new treatment options. You can learn more about the CDSMP, or visit Better Health Workshop to find a program in your area.
- Be active
- Research shows physical activity decreases pain, improves function and delays disability.
- The CDC recommends that people with arthritis undertake 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times a week, or a total of 150 minutes per week. The 30 minutes can be broken down into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day if needed.
- Details about the types of physical activity appropriate for individuals living with arthritis can be found here.
- Watch your weight
- Research confirms that maintaining a healthy weight can limit disease progression and symptoms.
- For every pound lost there is a four-pound reduction in the load exerted on the knee joint.
- A loss of just 5% – 12 pounds for a 250-pound person – can help reduce paint and disability.
- See your doctor
- Early diagnosis and professionally guided management is critical to maintaining a good quality of life, particularly for people with inflammatory arthritis.
- Disease-modifying drugs are beneficial for RA and other inflammatory arthritis conditions and are available only through a doctor’s prescription.
- Protect your joints – the article available at the following link has great information about proper body mechanics, self-help devices and how to make activities of daily life easier and scroll down to the sub-head of “Self-help skills.” This particular webpage by University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, even contains a link to exercise videos for people with arthritis.
The Arthritis Foundation reports that there is no sure way to prevent arthritis but asserts that you can reduce your risk and delay the potential onset of certain types of arthritis. If you have healthy joints right now, do all you can to maintain mobility and function and avoid the pain and disability associated with arthritis.
All of the more than 100 types of arthritis have their own risk factors, individual features, behaviors and circumstances associated with the disease. Some risk factors cannot be changed – such as being female or having a family history of arthritis. In contrast, some risk factors are considered to be modifiable. They are the behaviors and circumstances that can be changed in order to reduce risk, delay onset or altogether prevent arthritis. Here are just a few examples of arthritis and related diseases and associated modifiable risk factors:
- Osteoarthritis – maintain a healthy weight.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – do not smoke.
- Gout – eat a healthy diet that is low in sugar, alcohol and purines (a chemical found in meat and seafood).
In some cases, preventing a prior incident can significantly reduce the risk of arthritis. Avoiding sports injuries through proper equipment, adequate training and safe play can prevent injuries that may lead to osteoarthritis in a few years or several decades later.
Whether you or a loved one is coping with arthritis now or wishing to modify your risk factors, education is key.