What is Arthritis?

January 10, 2024
Avatar for Jyoti KinghornJyoti Kinghorn
Arthritis can affect elderly

Arthritis is a term used to describe various conditions that cause joint pain or tenderness. The joints in the hands, elbows, feet, knees, hips, spine, and back are often affected. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The symptoms can range from mild to severe pain and can significantly affect the range of motion. The pain can come and go, or be continuous. 

Most (but not all) types of arthritis generally develop after the age of 40 and tend to get worse with age. However, other types of arthritis such as those caused by an injury or repeated stress on a joint can develop at any age. Teens can get arthritis too.

Types of arthritis

Two common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Osteoarthritis affects about 32.5 million adults in the U.S. It usually affects the hands, hips, and knees. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage within a joint starts wearing down. Cartilage is a tough, smooth, and slippery tissue that lines the end of the bones in a joint. It allows the bones to glide over each other without friction. As the cartilage wears down in osteoarthritis, the bones start to rub against each other causing pain and inflammation. Over time as more and more cartilage deteriorates, the pain increases. In some cases, the joints can deteriorate enough to cause severe pain that can slow down or stop an individual’s daily functions and activities.

Osteoarthritis often develops with progressing age, but it can also be caused by overuse or injury of the joint. Being overweight or obese can exacerbate osteoarthritis in the hips and knees because carrying the extra weight puts more stress on these joints. Some genetic factors may also increase the risk of individuals for developing osteoarthritis.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, doctors can help patients manage the disease by recommending weight loss programs, physical therapy, pain relievers, intra-articular steroid injections, or supportive gear such as canes and crutches. The physician will examine the patient’s arthritic joints using radiographic imaging (X-rays). Depending on the description, characterization, and severity of the patient’s arthritis, specific recommendations will be made. If the pain is significant and all other options have been exhausted, they may recommend surgical options such as joint replacement surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis affects over 1.3 million adults in the U.S. It is an autoimmune disease in which an overactive immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in the joints. This causes inflammation which results in pain and swelling. Over time, it results in deformed joint structure and chronic pain. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect multiple joints at a time. It can also have harmful effects on organs such as the heart, eyes, and lungs.

Early medical intervention may be beneficial. A physician can help improve the symptoms with medications that provide relief, and some that can slow down the progression of the disease. Medicines called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that reduce the overall activity of the immune system. Since an overactive immune system causes rheumatoid arthritis, DMARDs provide relief by bringing down swelling and pain and slowing down further damage to the joints.

Exercise helps with arthritic pain

At-home management of symptoms

People can find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which reduce the pain and swelling. Cold packs wrapped in a moist towel applied on the affected joint can also help reduce the pain and swelling.

Eating a balanced diet filled with fresh and wholesome foods can help reduce inflammation while improving overall health. Foods such as fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, dark leafy greens, green tea, nuts, berries, garlic, onions, and turmeric can help relieve arthritic pain.

Some preliminary studies indicate that acupuncture may help reduce some arthritis symptoms, though detailed effects and mechanisms of action of acupuncture are not fully understood.

Exercise can ease arthritic pain

It may be counterintuitive to exercise when you don’t even want to move your affected joint, but joint-friendly exercises can reduce pain and improve mobility. Exercise has been shown to reduce the overall inflammation in the body. Regular exercise strengthens muscles and helps people maintain a healthy weight which relieves some of the pressure off the joints.

Brisk walking, swimming, and some forms of yoga can be beneficial for those with arthritis. Based on your particular symptoms and pain points, a trained physiotherapist may be able to suggest exercises that would benefit you the most.

The information provided in our blog posts is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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