Resources for Arthritis Management

When joints swell and become tender to move, arthritis may be the problem. Arthritis often gets worse over time. People of every age and demographic can develop arthritis, and it's the top cause of disability in the United States. With more than 100 different types of arthritis, almost 60 million adults and 300,000 kids in the America have some type of arthritis.

If joint pain or swelling set in, it's best not to ignore these symptoms. Most people with arthritis experience swelling, stiffness, and pain in one or more joints. The stiffness may be worse in the morning, and it could also get worse with periods of inactivity. It's also common to have reduced range of motion in affected joints, and sometimes, the joints can be tender to the touch. When moving a joint, an arthritis patient may even feel a grating or rubbing inside the joint. Generally, arthritis affects more than one joint. The most common joints to be affected by arthritis are those in the hands and feet, wrists, elbows, shoulders, lower back, hips, and knees.

Each type of arthritis has unique risk factors and causes. It may be difficult to determine an exact cause of arthritis because there may be many contributing factors that overlap. Advanced age and general lifestyle can contribute to overall wear and tear that make it more likely that someone will develop arthritis as they get older. People may begin to show symptoms of osteoarthritis as young as age 40. Some people carry genes that can make them more likely to develop specific types of arthritis, such as juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis. Another common cause of arthritis is a genetic predisposition to weakened cartilage, which can make it more likely that joints will develop problems over time. Repetitive joint movements can also trigger arthritis conditions with advancing age. An example of this type of repetitive movement would be knee issues in runners. Having an infection around a joint might cause the cartilage to deteriorate, which can cause arthritis. Being overweight is also a risk factor for arthritis, since the extra weight puts more wear and tear on joints over time. Many people find that arthritis in weight-bearing joints is more painful than in the smaller joints in the upper body. The pain and swelling in any joint can be extremely uncomfortable, and a reduced range of motion can make any kind of movement challenging.

Treatment options vary depending on the type of arthritis. Often, a team of professionals will help a patient manage arthritis symptoms. Dietitians can help set up a healthy diet that might facilitate weight loss, if necessary. Weight loss can be beneficial for overweight patients because it will reduce the load placed on joints. Exercise physiologists can assist with setting up a good exercise plan; regular exercise helps keep joints moving more freely. If daily activities need modification due to joint limitations, occupational therapists can offer tips and equipment; assistive devices might include shoe inserts to absorb shock, joint braces or sleeves, or a cane or walker. Physiotherapists are experts in pain management and exercise to help keep muscles and joints flexible. Physical therapy can involve the creation of an individualized exercise program that will strengthen specific muscles and enhance flexibility. And if depression and anxiety are a problem due to arthritis symptoms, therapists and psychologists can help with these issues.

Pain management is another important part of arthritis treatment. Arthritis patients don't have to suffer through discomfort. Oral medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics should help with inflammation and pain. Applying heat and ice can also be helpful. Some patients also opt for corticosteroid injections into joints, which can reduce pain and swelling for weeks or months. Many doctors recommend limiting the number of injections per year to just three or four, though, due to side effects.