For some, it’s a constant, achy pain. For others, it’s a swelling stiffness in the morning.
More than a hundred types of joint and connective tissue pain fall under the category of arthritis, each with its own challenges and interventions.
May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, a time for advocacy and education on the topic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than 50 million adult citizens and limiting the activities of 21 million.
There is currently no cure for arthritis, so for those who live with it, understanding how to treat the symptoms is vital to a good life. Even those who do not have arthritis can learn ways to decrease their risk of developing it, and learn to be a support to their friends and family members who have it.
Understanding arthritis empowers everybody.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It occurs when the cushioning tissue around the joint bones wears away – often in the hips, knees, spine and hands. The result is that the bones rub together, causing pain and stiffness. Sometimes an injury or infection contributes to this breakdown of cartilage, while other times it happens as an individual ages.
Thankfully, OA is also the most easily treated and prevented type of arthritis. Avoiding injury reduces one’s risk, as well as maintaining or achieving a healthy weight.
Exercise is also essential in avoiding stiffness and in controlling weight. To avoid damaging cartilage further, gentle exercises like walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi or gardening are best. And resting in between exercise sessions allows for better movement and less pain.
Physical and occupational therapy can also help individuals with OA maintain a more normal lifestyle, and physicians can prescribe medications to help with the pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an inflammation caused when the immune system attacks the joints. RA may get worse over time, or it may flare up and dissipate. It also affects more than the joints – it can even damage the heart, lungs, eyes or skin.
Risk factors for RA include genetics, gender (women are more than twice as likely as men to develop RA) and smoking.
Treatments are similar to those used for OA – controlling weight, taking the medication recommended by the primary physician and performing gentle types of exercises. Hot and cold treatments may also help reduce the inflammation.
While most people associate arthritis with age, even young people can experience the same type of joint pain.
Juvenile arthritis (JA) can manifest itself in many symptoms of joint pain in children ages 16 and younger. The CDC estimates that about one in 250 Americans age 18 or younger have some sort of arthritis.
The usual marker of JA is long-lasting swelling in the joints, though the arthritis can damage organs as well and can even cause children to be shorter when they grow up.
The causes of JA are a mystery, and treatments can be hit or miss. The best thing children and their families can do is to learn as much as they can, treat the symptoms and live as normal a life as possible. The Arthritis Foundation emphasizes the importance of not letting arthritis hold kids back from life.
Individuals who experience arthritic symptoms should see their primary care physician before starting any treatment plan. Symptoms to look out for include joints that make creaking or grinding sounds, as well as fatigue, pain and joint inflammation.
Several resources are available for those diagnosed with arthritis. Online, the AF website, (arthritis.org), the CDC website (cdc.gov/arthritis) and the National Arthritis Association (curearthritis.org) are go-to sites for information.
Someday, researchers hope to find a cure for arthritis.
Until then, learning about arthritis goes a long way to helping those living with joint pain and even preventing future cases. And that is good for everybody.