The human body consists of several joints which help in movement, provide support and help bear the weight of different regions of the body. Joint pain is an extremely common condition. Also known as arthritis, it affects various parts of the body such as the hands, shoulders, hips, ankles, thighs etc. It is a condition where the joints become inflamed because of the wearing down of cartilage, a rubbery tissue covering our bones. The bones then rub against each other, which triggers the pain. The likelihood of getting affected by joint pain increases as one becomes older. Joint pain can vary from being mildly painful to a severe, debilitating condition which renders movement impossible. There is no cure for joint pain, although there are many treatment options which can help alleviate the pain and reduce the severity of the condition.

Arthritis pain depends on the stage of arthritis. In the first stage, the pain predominantly occurs due to certain activities like walking upstairs or on uneven surfaces or squatting or sitting in a cross-legged position. The pain becomes continuous as the condition worsens, occuring even during routine activities like walking a few feet. Therefore, it is advised that people who suffer from joint pain for more than two weeks with no history of medical ailments must consult an orthopaedic surgeon so that they can be evaluated by clinical examination and X-rays.

Before we go into the symptoms, causes and treatment options, let us have a look at the different types of Arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis: It is an age-related arthritis which mainly affects the elderly population. But, nowadays it is commonly seen in people as young as in their late forties and early fifties.
  • Inflammatory Arthritis: This includes conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus which predominantly affect the middle-aged and the younger population.
  • Other forms of arthritis such as crystal induced arthritis, bacterial arthritis and viral arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

It is also known as primary arthritis. It is an inflammation of the joint caused due to degeneration of the cartilage. The cartilage covering the bones in and around the joints becomes thin and rough and exposes the bone. The bits of bone and cartilage then float around in the joint, resulting in inflammation. It is caused due to injuries, disease, ageing or might be hereditary in nature. Some of the common symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain in the affected joints, swollen joints, stiffness and loss of motion. The different stages of osteoarthritis can be observed either through an X-ray or during a surgery.

The first stage starts with softening of the cartilage where it is not actually broken, but is less capable of bearing the load.

In the next stage, the surface of the cartilage becomes eroded and tiny cracks appear.
In stage three, the thickness of the cartilage reduces, the joint space becomes narrower.
In the fourth stage, the cartilage is totally absent.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is an autoimmune disease, i.e., it occurs when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. It causes chronic inflammation in the joints. It is also known as a systemic illness because it can affect other organs of the body.

Gouty Arthritis

This is another major kind of arthritis which is caused by excessive uric acid in the blood. It can result in sudden burning pain, stiffness and swelling in joints. It is more common in men. The risk of being affected with gout increases if one is overweight or consumes excess alcohol or meat and fish.

Risk Factors for Arthritis

Certain factors increase the risk of getting arthritis. For instance, the risk of arthritis increases with an increase in age. Conditions such as obesity are also contributing factors. Arthritis is genetic in nature, and is more prevalent amongst women, except for some types such as gout which are more common in males. Injuries and infections in joints aggravate the risk of arthritis.

Causes of Arthritis

There is no single cause of arthritis and the causes depend on the type of arthritis. Degenerative arthritis is usually caused due to joint injuries and gout occurs due to an abnormal metabolism. Genetic factors play a role in incidences of osteoarthritis, infections result in arthritis of Lyme disease and an overactive immune system results in rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Symptoms of Arthritis

The common signs and symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Pain in the joints, which may be constant or intermittent in nature.
  • Inflammation of the joints due to stiffness, swelling, which causes the joints to become warm.
  • Difficulty in motion and loss of motion
  • Tenderness of the inflamed joint
  • Fever, weight loss, fatigue and abnormalities of organs such as kidneys, heart etc. in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment Options for Arthritis

Although there is no cure, there are many options available for treating arthritis. They are:

Medications: Over-the-counter medicines like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Tylenol etc. are some of the common medications used. But they may also result in certain side-effects like ulcers and bleeding. Tropical jells can stimulate the sensory nerve endings in the skin and reduce pain signals through the nervous system. Doctors may also prescribe a newer generation of Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), known as Cox-2 inhibitors. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system, which particularly addresses the cause of rheumatoid arthritis.

Physical Therapy: Exercise is the best way to relieve arthritis pain and reduce damage to the joints. Low-impact exercises such as stretching, swimming and cycling are recommended because they don’t put pressure on the joints. Aerobics can help improve the stamina and strengthen the heart and the lungs.

Weight loss: This is linked to a reduction in pain and disability due to arthritis as well because there is now lesser stress on the joints.

Surgery: This is recommended for severe cases when the joints don’t respond to other treatments.

Home Care: Simple techniques such as using a brace or a wrap to cushion the joint, applying heat and ice packs to ease the inflammation and pain etc can also be very effective.

Do’s and Don’ts of living with Arthritis

  • It depends on the type of condition of arthritis. In case of osteoarthritis, it is important to keep yourself healthy and fit and strengthening the knees so that they are capable of bearing more weight. A healthy diet and lifestyle must be followed. The patient must not squat or sit cross-legged and do deep knee flexion exercises as they cause more wear and tear. They should also not put on more weight through obesity which is the most common factor for failure of the knees.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the young, so the patients should consult an orthopaedic surgeon or rheumatologist since early diagnosis can prove to be beneficial in providing a long-term solution. Other forms of arthritis such as gouty arthritis can be treated by lowering their uric acid levels. Dietary modifications and medications play a very important role in the treatment of crystal-induced arthritis.
  • In many cases, a combination of therapies can be used to ease the effects of arthritis. The bottom-line is, although there is no cure for this condition, a healthy and active lifestyle can play a major role in warding off this disease.