Arthritis

Patient education provided through hyperlinks

What is arthritis?

The term arthritis means inflammation of a joint, but is generally used to describe any condition in which there is damage to the cartilage. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury.

What are the most common types of arthritis?

  • Osteoarthritis: Often referred to as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, this is the most common type of arthritis and occurs most often in older people. This disease affects cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to wear away over time.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This disease inflames the lining (or synovium) of joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in joints. When severe, rheumatoid arthritis can deform, or change, a joint.
  • Gout: Excessive amounts of naturally occurring uric acid can cause deposits of crystals to form in the fluid and lining of the joints. The result may be an extremely painful attack of arthritis, most commonly seen in the big toe or knee.
  • Infectious Arthritis: Arthritis can be caused by an infection, either bacterial or viral, such as Lyme disease. When this disease is caused by bacteria, early treatment with antibiotics can ease symptoms and cure the disease.

What causes OA?

For most patients, the cause of OA is unknown. However, it can be related to the wear and tear associated with aging. The causes can be multi-factorial and may include:

  • Metabolic (e.g. obesity)
  • Genetic
  • Chemical
  • Mechanical factors (e.g. injury or overuse)

What are the symptoms of OA?

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of motion
  • Loss of function

What are the treatments for OA?

The main goals of treatment are to relieve pain, maintain or improve joint movement and function, increase strength and reduce the disabling effects of the disease. Treatment often includes:

  • Medications
  • Regular exercise program
  • Weight reduction
  • Bracing
  • Injection therapy (corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid)
  • Glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation
  • Physical therapy


 

What can I do to relieve the pain?

Activity and exercise:
Low impact physical activity helps to maintain flexible joints and helps to maintain or improve muscle strength.

Weight reduction:
Weight loss and maintenance of ideal body weight helps to reduce significant pressure on joints and may prevent or slow the progression of OA.

   

Ice and heat treatments:
Using ice packs and applying heat can help ease pain and swelling. If your joint is swollen, use cold packs or ice.

Assistive devices:
Using a cane or crutch can help unload damaged joints and assist with ambulation.

Medication:
We recommend starting with an over the counter (OTC) pain medication Acetaminophen (Tylenol®), and supplementing with a Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Naproxen Sodium (Aleve®) or Ibuprofen (Advil®) to alleviate symptoms of pain and swelling as necessary. These medications are generally well tolerated and safe, but may cause side effects. As always, consult your primary care physician before using new medications.

Surgery:
In severe cases of arthritis refractory to non operative treatments surgical treatment may be indicated.


Find out more about Arthritis from the Orthopaedic connection website of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.