This post was updated for content on February 15, 2021. Existing comments have not been removed or edited.
If you suffer from joint pain and stiffness on a regular basis, it is possible that you have arthritis. It’s a term we hear constantly, but what actually is arthritis and what causes it?
In reality, the term arthritis only means inflammation of the joints. However, this inflammation can be causes by many different factors. In fact, there are actually over 100 different types of arthritis. All of the different types of arthritis typically cause pain, and you may experience swelling, visible redness, as well as limited mobility.
The Main Types of Arthritis
Although there are various types of arthritis, there are a few that are considered the most common forms of arthritis. Each type has a different cause, and may affect your joints differently.
The most common type of arthritis is referred to as osteoarthritis, or OA, affecting over 27 million Americans. OA occurs when the cartilage that cushions your joints wears down over time. Often referred to as “wear and tear arthritis,” the bones can eventually grind up against each other, causing severe pain and stiffness. It can also compromise the integrity of the bones themselves. You may even hear a grinding noise coming from your joints, if they are at the most severe, or bone on bone, form of osteoarthritis. If you are interested in learning more about the stages of osteoarthritis and recommended ways to treat it, please reference this post.
Post-traumatic arthritis occurs after an injury that has never fully healed and may be more prone to wearing out. This can lead to the development of osteoarthritis years after the initial injury. In fact, almost 12% of people who suffer from osteoarthritis actually have a specific type called post-traumatic osteoarthritis, or PTOA, which most often occurs in the knee, hip, and ankle.
Female athletes are several times more likely to injure their knees because they tend to rely more on the muscles in the front of their thighs to stabilize themselves, while their male counterparts generally use the stronger muscles in the back of the leg to do so. Military personnel typically have to carry heavy gear, jump from heights and walk across rough terrain, all of which can injure their leg joints.
Car accidents can also be at the root of PTOA. It is not uncommon for knees, back, hips, ankles and the neck to become injured during a crash, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the bones were broken. Even if only the surrounding structures were damaged, that may also lead to the early onset of osteoarthritis.
Studies have shown that people who experienced a knee injury during adolescence were twice as likely to develop arthritis in their knee as those who didn’t, and those who specifically injured the knee ligaments or meniscus—the soft cartilage between the thigh and shin bones—were ten times more likely to experience PTOA.
There are effective treatments for the pain and diminished mobility that come with arthritis. For example, knees—joints that are commonly affected by PTOA—can be greatly helped by a five-step regimen that involves a combination of immediate pain relief, enhancing the natural lubrication in the joint, fully assessing and monitoring the condition of the joint, bracing, and finally, regenerative therapy. This stops further breakdown of the joint and helps the body heal itself.
Another form of arthritis that is extremely common is called rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about 1.5 million Americans. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a chronic inflammatory condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues and joint capsules. RA affects the joints on both sides of your body, such as both hands, both wrists, and both knees. It affects the lining of your joints, which causes painful swelling and can eventually result in a damaged or deformed joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis may not cause any redness or swelling in the joints, but people may feel like their joints are tender and painful. As RA symptoms worsen, you may also experience:
- Morning stiffness that lasts for a half hour or more
- Joint pain, tenderness, and swelling or stiffness that lasts for six weeks or more
- Pain and tenderness in the small joints, including the wrists and joints in the hands or feet
- Pain in the same joints on both sides of the body
- Loss of appetite
- Low grade fever
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can come and go, with many people experiencing little to no pain for long periods of time. However, when inflammation and other symptoms worsen, this is known as a flare. Flares can last for several days or even months. If you experience frequent flares, it is best to work with your physician so that you can have a treatment plan in place to help manage flare-ups. Your physician can diagnose RA by conducting a medical exam, reviewing your medical history, and ordering blood tests. Blood tests help to understand inflammation levels and identify antibodies that are associated with RA.
Medication is the main treatment for RA, but the type of medication that your doctor will prescribe depends on the severity of your symptoms and how long you have had rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to medications, some people can benefit from physical therapy to help keep joints flexible and mobile. In severe cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to treat damaged joints or to improve joint function.
For patients who suffer from psoriatic arthritis, arthritis symptoms will be accompanied by psoriasis. Psoriasis is a condition in which the skin becomes red and inflamed in patches, which are often covered with flaky white scales. Psoriatic arthritis often causes foot pain, swollen fingers and toes, as well as spondylitis, a condition in which the vertebrae in the back become inflamed and painful.
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that involves all-over dull pain, and is often accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue, disordered sleep, moodiness, and memory problems. You may also experience headaches, bowel issues, and depression. Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is still being researched and studied, and is currently not very well understood. It may be triggered by infection, an accident, or severe psychological stress.
Gout is a condition that more commonly occurs in men than women, which occurs when there is a buildup of uric acid in the bloodstream. This is a normal waste product that would usually be filtered by the kidneys and released by urine. However, in some people, the uric acid builds up and forms needle-shaped crystals in a joint, often the big toe. Gout is extremely painful, and flare-ups usually last for about a week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in four adults have some form of arthritis. If you are experiencing joint pain over time that does not go away, or gets worse, you will want to consult an experienced joint specialist for an accurate diagnosis. If your experience matches one of the types of arthritis mentioned above, you may want to discuss this with your physician.
While many types of arthritis can’t be cured, you can find relief. Depending on the type of arthritis that you have, your doctor may recommend medication, therapy, bracing, lifestyle changes, or may even offer you the option of innovative non-surgical treatments.
If your joint pain is affecting your life and you’re concerned you may have arthritis, contact Flexogenix® today for a no-cost consultation. During this consultation we will review your case, determine the severity of your arthritis, and give you a personalized plan to relieve your pain and improve your life.