Do your hands ever feel sore after doing normal household chores? Do your knees or hips hurt after a long walk? Does the pain last all day? Or does it come and go for no clear reason?
People often joke about the aches and pains of getting old, but if you experience joint pain on a regular basis, you could be one of the more than 50 million Americans with arthritis.
There are different types of arthritis, but the main symptoms are often the same:
- Joint pain (commonly in the fingers, knees, back, or hips)
- Swelling, or inflammation, in the affected joints
- Stiffness or lack of mobility
It’s also important to know that arthritis affects everyone differently, so be sure to tell your doctor exactly what you’re feeling.
Different types of arthritis
There are many different types of arthritis that have different causes and symptoms. The two most common types are:
- Osteoarthritis (usually a degenerative, or “wear and tear” condition)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (caused by an immune system disorder)
Learn the difference between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis right now by downloading our FREE fact sheet.
In addition to these common types of arthritis, you may have heard of a condition called Gout. Gout is a type of arthritis that is caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints.
Arthritis Causes and Diagnosis
The different types of arthritis have different causes, and your doctor may do several tests to diagnose which type you have.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is a “degenerative” disease, meaning it involves wear and tear to the cartilage in your joints. In healthy joints, cartilage acts as a cushion that prevents bones from rubbing together. But in people with OA, the cartilage becomes worn out, causing pain and swelling in the joint.
To diagnose OA, the doctor may begin by testing your “range of motion” and asking you to describe the type of pain you feel. X-rays can also help the doctor see how severe the damage is.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by your body’s immune system attacking the lining of your joints. Over time, it will begin to damage the muscle tissue and even the bone itself. For this reason, it is called a chronic and progressive disease.
In addition to symptoms like soreness and swelling, people with RA may also experience fever and fatigue. It is often called a disease of “ups and downs” because symptoms can come and go.
Because RA is an immune disorder, your doctor may ask about your family history in addition to performing a physical examination and taking an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. He or she can also perform laboratory tests by taking samples of blood, urine, or fluid from your joints.
Unfortunately, there is no single “cure” for arthritis. But it is not life threatening, and most people are able to manage the condition through a combination of treatments.
Physical and occupational therapy
Physical and occupational therapy involve doing exercises that improve strength and flexibility in your joints. This can help you stay active and capable of doing everyday tasks.
People who are overweight can also benefit from losing weight, since that relieves strain on the knees, hips, and back.
Because medication alone will not cure arthritis, physical and occupational therapy are essential to managing the disease.
For most people with arthritis, over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or Advil can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. A doctor may also give you a cortisone injection directly into the affected area once every few months.
People with RA may also be given disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers. These medicines target your body’s immune system in order to slow or stop the damage to your joints.
In some cases, medication and physical or occupational therapy may not be enough to relieve symptoms of arthritis. For this reason, doctors have developed a number of surgical techniques that are effective.
Joint pain and swelling may seem like a natural part of aging—and they are. But if left untreated, arthritis can get worse, and in some cases people with arthritis can become severely disabled.
That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor. Once you have been diagnosed, you can begin a treatment program that will reduce swelling, relieve pain, and improve mobility. Remember: you have the power to manage your condition.
Learn more about the similarities and differences between OA and RA in our FREE fact sheet. Click below to gain access the sympton checklist and much more!
Images used with permission from the Hughson Foundation.