Overview - Arthritis is a common medical condition that causes inflammation (swelling) and pain of the bones and joints. You may have seen many elderly people (that is, the geriatric population) suffering from arthritis. Most arthritis variants affect the geriatric population. However, the condition is not limited to them. Juvenile arthritis is also quite prevalent, and it affects children.
The disease commonly affects the joints of the hips, knees, feet, and spine, thus, reducing the quality of overall life. However, timely medical intervention and an emphasis on preventive measures, such as a change in lifestyle habits, can significantly reduce further complications.
Arthritis is a global health menace with a higher prevalence rate than the deadly trio of AIDS, Cancer, and Diabetes. WHO estimates that worldwide around 9.6% of men and 18% of women aged above 60 have symptomatic osteoarthritis, and 25% of those affected cannot perform daily life activities. In India alone, arthritis is the most frequently occurring joint disease, with a prevalence rate of 22% to 39%. In particular, women are more susceptible to arthritis, with almost 45% of them above the age of 65 years showing symptoms.
That’s quite concerning!
The lack of knowledge and awareness of this disorder is probably the biggest reason why we have such a large population pool suffering from it.
So, here's everything you need to know about arthritis, arthritis treatment, and overcoming this health disorder to achieve a better standard of living, even in your old age.
What is Arthritis?
The word "arthritis" derived from the Greek terms "arthro" (meaning joint) and "itis" (meaning inflammation), literally translates to ‘inflammation of the joints.’ From the translation itself, it is clear that this condition is characterized by the stiffness, swelling, and pain of the joints. It can be even worse as certain types of arthritis may affect other organs such as the heart, eyes, or skin. The conditions typically worsen with age and may lead to the patient becoming incapable of performing even the simplest day-to-day activities.
There are several different types of arthritis, each characterized by a distinct set of causes and symptoms. However, the predominant clinical symptom is the classic swelling and pain of joints. The two most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis usually occurs when the cartilage between the joints wears out. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease (a misdirected response of the immune system). But we shall dive into the details of the types of arthritis later on.
First, let’s learn, is arthritis curable?
Well, arthritis treatments vary depending on the type of arthritis and the severity of the condition. The bad news is that there is no curative treatment yet. However, you do not have to just stay in pain all the time. Most of the arthritis treatment methods are preventive and help in lowering the symptoms (that is, the pain and inflammation) and improving the quality of life.
Types of Arthritis
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The types differ on the basis of cause, symptoms, and the body part affected. While rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the two most common types, there are several other variants of this rheumatic disorder that have been discussed below:
The knee joint is one of the most common locations that get affected by arthritis. Arthritis causes thinning of the cartilage (tissue that protects joints from mechanical stress), making the surface of the joint rougher. As a result, the knee cannot move smoothly, and the patient experiences stiffness and severe arthritis pain. In extreme conditions, the person may not be able to walk.
Knee Arthritis Symptoms
But how will you know if you or anyone near you has arthritis of the knee? The most apparent clinical symptom of a person having arthritis of the knee is that the knee joint becomes inflamed and painful. The pain usually develops slowly over time, but many patients also experience a sudden onset of pain, disrupting their daily life. Other symptoms of knee arthritis may include the following:
â— A swollen and stiffened knee joint, making it difficult to straighten or bend the knee. The swelling and pain may get worse after resting or sitting.
â— Vigorous physical activity or excessive knee movements may cause the pain to intensify.
â— As a result of muscle weakness, balance difficulties, and pain, the patient may feel the knee to be "giving away," a symptom of knee instability caused due to arthritis of the knee.
â— Tissues and loose cartilage fragments may hinder the smooth functioning of the knee joint, causing the knee to "stick" or "lock" during movement. Such arthritis-affected knees will make a grinding noise (or snap, click, creak) with every movement in most cases.
â— Many patients with knee arthritis are known to experience increased arthritis pain in the joint, during rainy weather.
Did you know that women are most likely to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis? Although the disease usually affects individuals between the age of 30 and 50, it has been seen that rheumatoid arthritis can begin at almost any age.
That is quite alarming, right?
â— The disease is a chronic one that causes joint swelling, stiffness, and pain, with the small joints in the feet and hands being the most affected. As a result, the affected individual's movements become highly restricted with the inability to perform even the simplest of daily tasks.
â— In worst-case scenarios, rheumatoid arthritis may even affect other organs such as the skin, lungs, or eyes.
â— Other signs and clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include stiffness of joints in the morning (may last an entire day), loss of appetite, mild fevers, lack of energy, and firm lumps (known as rheumatoid nodules) that grow beneath the skin of hands and elbows.
It brings us to the most pertinent question - what causes rheumatoid arthritis? Well, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. What does that mean? Let's break it down into simple terms. Under normal conditions, our immune system is supposed to gather its arsenal and attack any kind of foreign matter in the body (such as virus and bacteria) and induce inflammation that manifests in the form of redness, itching, swelling, pain, fever, etc. However, an aberrant immune response may occur towards the body's healthy tissues and cells, creating a similar inflammation in the form of joint pains and swellings. The exact cause of this occurrence is not known. However, an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is hereditary. So if you are born with such a defective gene, you will be more than likely to be susceptible to the disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Deformity
More than the pain, the rheumatoid arthritis deformities have fanned the flame of fear around the disease. Some of the most common and prominent joint deformities include:
â— Swan-neck deformity: The outermost joint and the base of the finger bend, while the middle joint is straightened.
â— Boutonniere deformity: In this case, the joint of the outer finger bends opposite to the palm, and the joint of the middle finger bends towards the palm.
â— Claw toe deformity: Toes either bend downwards at the middle joints, upwards from the joint located at the ball of the foot or downwards at the top joints of the toe, and curl beneath the foot.
â— Hitchhiker's thumb: This type of deformity is characterized by the thumb flexing at the metacarpophalangeal joint (knuckles of the hand) and hyperextending at the interphalangeal joint (hinge joints in the fingers) below the thumbnail.
But what leads to the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis deformity? The cause of such deformities roots from the autoimmune reaction that we discussed in the previous section. The affected joint, which is the battleground of the adverse immune response, sees an accumulation of inflammatory cells that form a fibre-like layer of abnormal tissue. These fibrous tissues release substances that accelerate cartilage destruction, bone erosion, and injury to the surrounding ligaments. As a result, the affected joints become deformed due to a loss in alignment and shape.
But thanks to rheumatoid arthritis treatment options, the frequency, and severity of deformities have lessened significantly. So what are the available rheumatoid arthritis treatments? Depending on the severity, patients can resort to either of the following treatment methods:
â— Occupational therapy: It mostly includes exercise and splinting. Severe hand deformities are addressed through appropriate exercise programs and the use of splints, which are known to slow down the progression of deformities.
â— Surgery: In extreme and rare cases when therapies fail to work, patients may undergo replacement surgery that does not entirely cure the disease but helps to recover the affected joint's functionality.
The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint where the ball-like end of the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade's socket or cavity. A layer of cartilage covers both the ball and the socket. Shoulder arthritis is a condition characterized by the damage of cartilages present inside the shoulder joint's ball-and-socket arrangement. As a result, the shoulder joint cartilage begins to break away, first on the surface, and gradually in the deeper layers.
The most probable cause of shoulder arthritis is the slow wear and tear of the cartilage layer covering the surface of bones at the joint. The damage occurs in stages and begins with the softening of the cartilage. Slowly, cracks develop on the surface, and the cartilage soon begins to flake until it wears away completely, exposing the surface of the bone underneath. Consequently, the smooth, gliding support of the cartilage is lost.
There are many different types of shoulder arthritis, each having a discrete cause. Some of the most common causes of shoulder arthritis include osteoarthritis of the shoulder joint, rheumatoid arthritis, injury to the shoulder joint, and reduced blood supply to the upper arm bone's ball head. The degree of cartilage loss varies from person to person, and so does the severity of symptoms. Here are some of the most frequently observed symptoms of shoulder arthritis:
â— Mild to severe pain in the shoulder joint that worsens with hand movement or while lifting heavy objects.
â— Joint stiffness and a loss in the range of motion of the shoulder. If you are experiencing severe shoulder arthritis, the pain and stiffness may ultimately limit your hand movement.
â— Shoulders may "lock" or make a cracking, clicking, or grinding sound with movement due to the irregular surface of cartilages.
Like the shoulders, the hip joint is characterized by the ball-like end of the thigh bone fitting into the pelvic (hip) bone socket. The hip joints are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis, a condition in which the cartilage tissue of the hip's ball-and-socket joint wears away due to inflammation or injury. While the exact cause of hip arthritis is unknown, possible risk factors may include the following:
â— Injury and old age, causing wear and tear of bone and cartilage.
â— Obesity or activities that put extra pressure on the hip joints.
â— Underdeveloped hip joints.
â— Hip arthritis may also be a direct consequence of genetic traits that lead to defective cartilage.
So how will you know if you have hip arthritis?
Like any other form of arthritis, symptoms may differ from person to person, but you can look out for the following most common symptoms of arthritis in the hip joint:
â— Pain in the thighs, groin, knees, or buttock.
â— Stiffness in the hips, most often felt after getting out of bed or sitting for a prolonged period.
â— Pain in the hip joint which can be a dull ache or a sharp and stabbing pain.
â— Difficulty in moving the hip and the inability to perform even the simplest movement such as bending.
â— A crunching or creaking sound (like bone rubbing against bone) in the hip joint with the slightest movement.
Arthritis in Fingers
The joints in your hands and fingers work like a well-lubricated machine that eases even the simplest of tasks such as holding a pen or typing on a computer keyboard. However, these small joints, especially the ones in your fingers, are quite delicate. So what can we do if they stop working the way we want to and instead, ache and swell up?
The fingers are most commonly affected by three types of arthritis.
â— The first type, osteoarthritis, is when the cartilage in the finger joints wear and tear away gradually to expose the bare bone surface. The hand has many joints, but the most common joints in the fingers affected by osteoarthritis are the knuckles of the middle finger and the fingertip and the joint located at the base of the thumb.
â— The next most frequently occurring finger arthritis falls under the rheumatoid category resulting from a systemic autoimmune reaction. The most commonly affected finger joint is the knuckles situated at the base of the fingers. In this type, the soft tissue surrounding the joints are inflamed.
â— Another more common cause of finger arthritis is gout or uric acid crystals in the joints. Besides the finger joints, the big toe can also be severely affected by gout.
Arthritis in Neck
Most of us adults have experienced mild to throbbing neck pain with stiffness. While neck pain can result from many things, the most common cause is arthritis of the neck. It is a widespread occurrence and is seen in almost 85% of adults above 60. Neck arthritis is the consequence of the joints and discs in the neck (cervical spine) wearing and tearing with age, resulting in pain and stiffness. But guess what? Such degenerative changes of the spine are common and occur in every aging individual. Moreover, a lot of middle-aged and older people do not even experience any painful symptoms. But if you experience any one or more of the following symptoms, you are likely suffering from neck arthritis and need treatment.
â— Muscle spasms in the shoulders and neck
â— Popping or grinding noise with neck movement
â— Loss of balance, difficulty walking, or weakness in the legs, arms, and fingers
A relatively rare type of arthritis is gonococcal arthritis, a complication of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. Gonococcal arthritis is most commonly caused by untreated gonorrhea and mostly affects young adults and teens. While unprotected sexual contact is the most prevalent cause of gonorrhea, the disease can also affect babies who may contract it from their mothers during childbirth. Gonococcal arthritis can affect many joints in the body, including those of the knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, and in rare cases, joints of the head and trunk.
In most cases, gonococcal arthritis shows no clinical symptoms, and the patient may be unaware of being afflicted with the disease. But common symptoms, if present, include the following:
â— Difficulty feeding, irritability, fever, crying, and spontaneous limb movement (in infants)
â— Swollen and red joints
â— Painful and tender joints that get worse with movement
â— Skin lesions
â— Fever and chills
â— Limited range of movement
Arthritis in Legs
Have you ever imagined the amount of stress your legs and feet have to bear? Yes, almost your entire body weight! Naturally, the legs are quite prone to developing arthritis due to the sheer burden they carry.
Hence, osteoarthritis is the most common condition affecting the leg joints leading to a wearing away of the cartilages. Several factors lend a hand towards arthritis of the legs. These include:
â— Old age
â— Injury or trauma to joints due to surgery or vigorous physical activity
â— Joint abnormalities that developed in childhood or are present since birth
â— Hereditary (genetic) factors
Like most other arthritis types, leg arthritis results in joint stiffness, pain, redness, swelling, and the inability to perform daily activities. Sometimes, the affected joint muscles may feel numb and look thin and wasted due to weakness and unstable bone structure.
Arthritis is not all about bones and joints - it can affect your eyes too. The eyes are mostly affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The most common eye-related symptom that accompanies rheumatoid arthritis is dryness. Dry eyes are susceptible to infection and, if left untreated, can cause severe damage to the cornea, the part of the eye that helps focus light. Dry eyes can also be a clinical manifestation of Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder linked with rheumatoid arthritis and affects older women.
In rarer situations, rheumatoid arthritis may cause inflammation in the sclera (white part of your eyes) with subsequent pain and redness. So, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you shouldn't be ignoring the following symptoms:
â— Pain, redness, swelling, and drying of eyes
â— Changes in vision
Psoriasis is a skin disease characterized by red, patchy, and scaly skin. People with psoriasis are most likely to develop psoriatic arthritis, but in some cases, the arthritis sets in even before the skin abnormalities appear. Besides psoriasis, the other risk factors of psoriatic arthritis include a family history of the disease and age.
Our discussion so far has made it quite evident that osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis that affects people. It is caused due to the wearing away of cartilage and can affect almost any joint in the body, including those in the hands, hips, spine, knees, and fingertips.
As per WHO, “Osteoarthritis (OA) is a long-term chronic disease characterized by the deterioration of cartilage in joints which results in bones rubbing together and creating stiffness, pain, and impaired movement.”
Osteoarthritis is most commonly characterized by symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, inflammation, and tenderness. As the condition becomes severe, the pain and swellings may get more intense, with the movements getting reduced significantly and joints becoming weak and unstable. Treatments for osteoarthritis mainly focus on symptom management.
The primary cause of osteoarthritis is joint damage, which may be the result of one or more factors, including:
â— Past injuries such as dislocated joints, torn cartilage, or ligament injuries.
â— Malformed joints
â— Poor posture and obesity
â— Family history and gender
Arthritis of Jaws
Did you ever think that out of all body parts, the jaws could be affected by arthritis? Well, sadly, they do. The most common causes of jaw arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis. The condition can range from mild to severe but can significantly worsen with time.
The symptoms can vary depending on the severity of arthritis. But some of the most common clinical signs include the following:
â— Pain during jaw movements
â— Locking of the jaw or restricted movement
â— Tenderness and inflammation in and around the jaw joints
â— Morning stiffness
â— Trouble chewing
â— A crunching, creaking, clicking, or grating noise during jaw movement
â— Tooth pain
â— Facial pain or pain around the neck and ears
Most patients who discover that they have arthritis tend to ask if arthritis is curable. Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for arthritis. However, the arthritis treatment methods available aim to alleviate the symptoms and improve the overall quality of life. So if you've been diagnosed with arthritis, therapy, self-care, medication, and surgery are the most common arthritis treatments you can avail of depending on the severity of symptoms.
Self treatment of arthritis is possible through the use of homeopathic formula products. However, such treatment is only useful in relieving the acute symptoms and does not cure the underlying cause. But if you want to go a step ahead of getting temporary relief, you may resort to professional homeopathic treatment. They offer more long-lasting comfort, and possibly even cure the condition. Such homeopathic care is provided through highly personalized constitutional medicine and may effectively heal a chronic arthritis state.
Arthritis is often linked with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. What's worse is that the arthritis pain may fuel depression, and the depression, in turn, may make the pain worse. The inflammation and pain cause fatigue. Add to it other health problems like a heart condition or diabetes, and your overall lifestyle gets severely impacted. But psychiatry attempts to break this vicious cycle by simultaneously addressing the mental health condition and arthritis through physical activity programs and self-management education workshops. Such activities have proven to significantly boost patients' mental health, along with a reduction in arthritis symptoms.
Hydrotherapy treatment uses water to treat arthritis and several other chronic conditions. It doesn't entail swimming but engages the patient in special exercises performed in a warm water pool. It's done under the supervision of a physiotherapist and can be beneficial irrespective of the type of joints affected. However, hydrotherapy treatment is most frequently used to care for osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or post joint replacement surgery.
Arthritis and physical activity
Arthritis and physical activity have proven to co-exist peacefully. Arthritis patients who exercise daily suffer less pain, have more energy, sleep better, and are more active at day-to-day tasks. There are three primary exercise levels for arthritis that can prove helpful.
â— Therapeutic or rehabilitative exercises are prescribed by doctors or health professionals and address body parts that are specifically affected. Such a therapeutic program works wonders for those who experience joint pain, have restricted joint motion, or are recovering from surgery.
â— Leisure or recreational exercises include swimming, walking, or even running. But of course, such activities should be done in a safe and controlled manner.
â— Competitive exercises are performed for longer durations and for higher intensities such as running a marathon. However, performing such activities is not recommended for those affected by inflammatory arthritis or joint problems that may worsen with sports.
Medicines - Arthritis medicine or treatments focus on lessening arthritis symptoms and improving joint functions. A single treatment or a combination may have to be tried before determining what works best for you. Depending on the arthritis type, the commonly used medicines for arthritis include:
â— TCreams and ointments (known as counterirritants) reduce the transmission of pain.
â— Painkillers can reduce the pain significantly but do not affect the inflammations.
â— Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or DMARDs are mostly used in patients with rheumatoid arthritis as these medications prevent the immune system from attacking the bones and joints.
â— Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen alleviate both pain and inflammation
â— Corticosteroids can be taken orally or can be injected to suppress inflammation as well as the immune system.
â— Biological response modifiers are genetically engineered drugs and may be used in conjunction with DMARDs to selectively target substances that have a role to play in inflammation.
Remedies - In addition to getting professional medical help, you can also reduce the arthritis symptoms with some natural home remedies. These do not require any elaborate setup and can be practiced at home with ease.
â— Exercise, Yoga, and meditation work wonders in reducing inflammation, stress, and pain.
â— Hot and cold treatments (with heating pads and ice packs) can ease the muscles and blood flow and curb joint inflammation and swelling.
â— A proper massage can alleviate pain in many cases.
â— Several herbs and plant products such as aloe vera, eucalyptus, ginger, green tea, and turmeric are believed to be anti-inflammatory (reducing excess inflammation). (Source) However, the efficacy of many of such natural remedies is not backed by scientific evidence and must always be tried after consultation with a doctor to avoid any possibility of adverse reactions with arthritis medications
If you have arthritis, you know how exhausting and painful the condition can be. Even though a permanent cure isn't available, several arthritis treatment methods reduce the severity of symptoms. Most of these arthritis treatments are therapeutic and provide temporary relief, but the fight against arthritis can get more manageable with the appropriate medications and lifestyle habits. So, the sooner you identify your symptoms, the better chances you have at conquering the pain!