Arthritis is swelling and tenderness of one or more of the joints. It is a common condition that affects every 1 in 4 Americans. That is an estimated 54 million people in the US alone. Common symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness in the affected joints. This pain can range from mild to severe. Severe arthritis pain is often debilitating and can seriously limit the range of motion in the affected joints. Risk factors for arthritis include some things that can be changed and others that cannot be changed.
The risk factors for things that can be changed are as follows:
- Weight: Being overweight or obese can encourage arthritis to occur in the weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips.
- Infections: Bacteria and certain viruses can cause certain types of arthritis. It is best to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect an infection. That way, a trained medical professional can guide you on the ways to deal with the infection quickly.
- Joint injuries: Joint injury or overuse can damage joints and contribute to osteoarthritis. Certain jobs and occupations are more prone to joint injury like construction workers who perform repetitive motions.
- Occupation: Jobs that require repetitive bending, squatting, heavy lifting are consistent overhead motions that can contribute to osteoarthritis. To minimize the risk of developing arthritis, those with jobs that require such actions can make sure that they use the correct equipment for their tasks and utilize the correct form ie. keeping the joints in the correct position.
- Smoking: Research has shown that smoking cigarettes can raise one’s chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
The risk factors that cannot be changed are:
- Age: Research states that people are more likely to develop arthritis as they age.
- Gender: Being a female makes one more likely to develop arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis.
- Genetics and inherited traits: If a family member had arthritis, especially if it is an immediate family member like your mother or father, then you are more likely to develop arthritis.
There are many different types of arthritis, however, the two main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis or OA is the most common type. It occurs when the cartilage surrounding the joint wears away. The cartilage acts as a protective layer that cushions the ends of the bones. Without it, the bones are unable to glide over one another smoothly; this is painful. This form of arthritis is most often seen in weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, and spine. It is also commonly seen in the hands. Symptoms of OA include pain and stiffness in the affected joint, tenderness to touch, loss of flexibility and range of motion, audible popping or cracking of the joint, and much more.
The next main form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis or RA. This type differs starkly from osteoarthritis as it is not caused by wear and tear. Instead, RA is caused by a chronic inflammatory disorder occurring within the body. Also, unlike OA, RA affects more than just the joints. RA can affect organs like the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Symptoms of this type of arthritis include tenderness, swelling, stiffness that is worse in the morning or after long periods of inactivity, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Symptoms of RA can become so severe that they cause physical disability. RA often starts in smaller joints first like the fingers and toes; it then spreads to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, and hips.
Treatment of arthritis includes learning self-management techniques that help control, or better manage, the symptoms like reducing stress, improving your mood, and communicating what you are feeling to health care personnel. Treatment can also include reducing your weight, as weight loss can reduce the symptoms of arthritis. In fact, losing 5 lbs. is the same as losing 20 lbs to your knees. Staying active is another way to combat arthritis. Staying active decreases pain improves function, brightens your mood, and improves your quality of life. If your arthritis is painful, you can switch up your activities to suit what you can manage; but don’t stop. The last step in arthritis treatment is to protect your joints. Joint injuries can predispose a person to arthritis, so in this case, prevention may be better than cure. If you frequently participate in sports, be sure to utilize protective equipment where applicable. Also, you can use splints to support joints and slow joint destruction.
Lastly, there are steps you can take to prevent arthritis. These steps include staying at a healthy weight, eating a Mediterranean diet, exercise that includes stretching and strengthening exercises, quitting smoking, getting preventative care, controlling blood sugar, using equipment to do the work whenever possible, and incorporating supplements into your diet.
Although RA and OA affect so many people, you do not have to be one of them. Take the necessary steps today to walk into a healthier, happier future.