The word “arthritis” is Greek for joint inflammation. It is estimated that 46.4 million Americans have some form of arthritis. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis most often affects the knees, wrists, or spinal column. As you age, your chances of developing arthritis rise.

Common Types of Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis – An inflammatory form of arthritis that causes joint pain and damage. This arthritis attacks the lining of the joints, which causes swelling that can result in aching, throbbing, and eventually deformity.

Osteoarthritis – The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joints wears down. It can affect any joint in the body, but most commonly in the hands, hips, knees and spine.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis – This arthritis occurs in children 16 years old or younger, and typically lasts at least six weeks. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis causes joint swelling, stiffness and sometimes reduced motion. It can affect any joint, and even internal organs.

Gout – This is a form of arthritis that is characterized by severe pain, redness and tenderness in the joints. Gout is a complex disorder that can affect anyone, but men are the primary victims.

Arthritis Symptoms

The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain and swelling within the joints. But the specific symptoms will likely depend upon the kind of arthritis and its degree of severity. Here are the signs of symptoms of the two most common forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis:

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

The primary symptoms of osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” arthritis, are joint pain and stiffness that worsens over time. The affected joint may also experience in an increase in temperature, creakiness and inflammation.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary in their duration as well as their severity. Some individuals with osteoarthritis may not have any signs or symptoms for months while others experience chronic dull pain in their joints. The effects of osteoarthritis are also dependent upon the location of the joint pain. For instance, osteoarthritis of the hands causes hard and bony spurs to appear on the fingers while when the condition strikes the knees, a limp or deformity can develop as the disease progresses. Bow-legged knee, a consequent of osteoarthritis, occurs when there is progressive deterioration of the cartilage in the knee joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that produces chronic inflammation in the joints, is marked by muscle and joint pain, fatigue, stiffness, low-grade fever and lack of energy and appetite. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is systemic, meaning that it affects the internal organs of the body as well as the joints.

An estimated 1.3 million American are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Flare-ups and periods of remission wax and wane according to each individual person as symptoms and severity vary from case to case. When the joint is inactive for a period of time, stiffness occurs as well as pain and tenderness. The most common joint sites are the hands, wrists and feet. Symptoms occur on both sides of the body and can make actions of daily living such as brushing teeth, combing hair and holding a coffee mug very difficult and painful.

Chronic inflammation can cause deformities and tissue, bone and cartilage deterioration which when severe enough, can result in a loss of function in the affected joint.

The systemic inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis also impacts internal organs. Dry eyes and mouth, an enlarged spleen, and nodule formation in the lungs and under the skin are some of the effects of this condition.

While the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be very severe and widespread, they are best managed when they are found early so that treatment can restore function and prevent the further progression of the disease.

Arthritis Causes

Arthritis pain is caused by damaged joints. There are a variety of factors that can cause arthritis or predispose someone from developing this umbrella-term condition. Your joints are made up of cartilage, joint capsule (the membrane that encases the joint) and synovium (membrane that lines the joint capsule).

You may experience wear-and-tear damage to cartilage, which can result in bone on bone grinding. This causes pain and restricted movement.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks joints and inflames the synovium, which causes swelling, redness and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis can destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.

Repetitive movements can cause arthritis, in the form of tendinitis. Anything from using a computer keyboard all day, running, or lifting heavy weights excessively can all lead to arthritis problems. This is formally referred to as repetitive motion disorder.

There are a variety of risk factors that increase a person’s chance for developing arthritis. Some of these risk factors can be changed while others cannot:

Family history – The risk for developing some types of arthritis is passed down genetically by parents. Specific genes have been associated with an increased risk for certain types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus.

Obesity – Excess weight is a stress on your joints, especially your knees, hips and spine. As the joints supports a larger load, the cartilage starts to wear away thereby weakening the joint. The cumulative effect over time gives obese people a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Age – While there is juvenile arthritis, the risk of certain forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, increases with age. As we age, our bones become more brittle and the lifelong use of our joints starts to wear down the cartilage, the smooth and flexible material found in between joints that allows them to move. As cartilage is worn away, the bones have no protective buffer and the joints become exposed causing them to rub against one another.

Occupational Hazards – Arthritis risk increases for individuals who engage in repetitive tasks that use the same muscles and joints over and over. Machine operators, seamstresses, printmakers, farmers and those who have been exposed to asbestos are some of the professions with a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Joint Injury – People who have injured a joint are more likely to develop arthritis in that joint at some point in their lives.

Gender – Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while most gout sufferers are men.

Arthritis Treatment

The following are some of the common conventional medicines used to treat arthritis:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve)

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – Doctor-prescribed medicine that limits the amount of joint damage that occurs in rheumatoid arthritis. Examples include:

  • Arava
  • Plaquenil
  • Imuran
  • Cytoxan
  • Azulfidine

Biologics – Drugs called biologic response modifiers, or biologics, are among the most important advances in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Biologics are genetically engineered proteins derived from human genes, which inhibit components of the immune system that play important roles in inflammation. Examples include:

  • Orencia
  • Humira
  • Enbrel
  • Remicade

Corticosteroids – Given topically, by mouth (orally) or by injection, steroids decrease inflammation and reducing the activity of the immune system. Examples of corticosteroids include:

  • Aristocort
  • Celestone
  • Cinalone
  • Depo-medrol
  • Hydeltrasol
  • Hydeltra TBA
  • Kenalog

Physical Therapy – Treatment may include a physical or occupational therapist. Physical therapy will stimulate muscles, bones, and joints through exercise or other methods. While, occupational therapists specialize in increasing your ability to live and work independently.

Arthritis Treatment Without Medicine

Plant Oils with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) – GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid found in plant oils. Sources include evening primrose, borage and black currant. Some studies show that GLA may help with rheumatoid arthritis pain and morning stiffness. There are possible side effects, so discuss it with your doctor before use.

Fish Oils with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Acupuncture – The fine needles used in acupuncture therapy, inserted at specific points on the skin, reduce many types of pain, including some types of arthritis.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – With the use of a small device that produces mild electrical pulses, TENS therapy stimulates nerves near aching joints and may interfere with the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Tai Chi – This Chinese martial art is used to improve different aspects of health with flowing exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing. Some studies have found tai chi may reduce pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis Prevention

Keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help reduce your risk of developing arthritis. Diet can play a role, specifically in developing gout.

Arthritis Resources

Arthritis Foundation

The Centers for Disease Control