While we often refer to arthritis as if it’s a single disease, it’s actually an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than a hundred types of arthritis and related conditions. A painful condition that can reduce mobility, arthritis occurs when swelling or tenderness in one or more joints causes stiffness and pain. Read on to learn more about how people experience arthritis and the treatment options available for those who suffer from joint pain.
There are two main causes of arthritis: degenerative wear and your immune system’s response to perceived threats. The cause of arthritis is often used to diagnose the type of condition you have.
The general wear and tear of your cartilage can occur over several years. For example, more doctors are starting to see smartphone-related injuries from patients who continuously text and scroll throughout the day. Texting Thumb occurs when the joints in your thumb and other parts of the hand feel stiff and numb. This is the result of repetitive motions throughout the day with little rest or hand care.
Degenerative arthritis is a chronic disorder that results in the breakdown of tissue around the joint. Every person is different and degenerative arthritis can appear throughout the body, regardless of whether a particular joint is over-used throughout the day.
If your arthritis isn’t degenerative it is likely an immune response: your body is attacking the cartilage of your joints, breaking it down and leaving your joints swollen.
Arthritis pain looks and feels different for each patient. The initial questions your doctor will ask will concern your pain levels and the types. Arthritis pain can be mild in some, but severe in others. It can be a dull ache that you endure throughout the day or sharp, “stabbing” pains. Your doctor will want to know when you feel pain, where, and how much it affects your daily life.
Along with pain, there are other arthritis symptoms that you may experience depending on your condition. These include:
These are all signs of inflammation and highlight how your body is responding to worn or damaged joints.
Additionally, some patients report feeling a “catch” when they try to move their joints as if they are hitting something as they extend their arms or bend their knees. Tell your doctor if you experience this.
Arthritis is an informal way to discuss joint pain. This isn’t a disease in the way most people think about it, where the condition can be prevented with a vaccine or treated with a cure. There are multiple causes of arthritis, but one of the most common sources comes from general wear and tear in the body.
Some people are more prone to arthritis than others. While women and older patients are most likely to experience joint pain, some people notice swelling in their joints earlier in their lives. Your joint may wear down because of a variety of factors related to your lifestyle.
Arthritis is also the result of your body’s immune response to a perceived threat. Your immune system wants to protect you, even if it causes swelling in joints that are otherwise healthy. This is another reason why arthritis isn’t something you can cure without affecting your immune system as a whole.
Many patients experience arthritis flare-ups, which occur when they experience sudden levels of pain in their joints. These flare-ups are almost impossible to prepare for or predict. As a result, many patients have to react to arthritis pain when it happens and try to mitigate the impact of the flare-up.
While there are dozens of different types of arthritis, most joint conditions fall into one of four different categories. Your doctor will work to identify the cause of your arthritis before creating a plan of action to treat it. Along with the degenerative and inflammatory causes of arthritis, there are two other causes that can lead to different arthritis conditions.
Degenerative arthritis is also known as osteoarthritis. This occurs when the cartilage (a hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of your bones) wears away. This causes bone to rub against bone, which results in pain and stiffness.
With this form of arthritis, the body’s immune system accidentally attacks your joints with inflammation – a natural response to an injury or threat. This bodily response causes joint erosion and the immune system can also attack bodily organs. Rheumatoid arthritis is a common form of inflammatory arthritis.
Infectious arthritis is another form of bodily response to a threat – typically against a virus or bacterium. As your immune system tries to fight off whatever is hurting your body, it will cause joint inflammation. Common causes of infectious arthritis are salmonella poisoning and some sexually transmitted diseases. While early treatment of the disease can prevent arthritis, it can become chronic as a result of your infection.
Your body requires a balance of compounds and chemicals for you to stay healthy. When one chemical is lacking or found in excess, you may experience unwanted symptoms. Metabolic arthritis occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body. The acid builds up and forms crystals in the joints, which can be painful. This is also known as gout.
Metabolic arthritis can feel like sudden spikes of pain, rather than a dull chronic throb and stillness.
By understanding the cause of arthritis, your doctor can get to the root of the issue. This way they aren’t treating your arthritis like a degenerative disease if the cause is related to a viral infection or buildup of uric acid.
While arthritis can show up in almost any joint in your body, there are a few common areas where patients report pain and swelling. These include:
Arthritis often presents itself in high-use joints. For example, you use your knees throughout the day and for repetitive motions (walking and running). People who work at a desk job and type throughout the day may experience arthritis in their hands and risk from continuously pounding the keyboard.
That being said, you can develop arthritis in expected areas, especially as the result of an immune system response.
Many of the triggers that cause arthritis are out of your control. For example, your risk for arthritis increases with age. Women are also more likely to get arthritis than men. People with a family history of arthritis are also more likely to develop the condition. This means you can’t necessarily prevent the development of arthritis even in your care for your body.
However, there are some factors that you can control. People who smoke or who don’t exercise are more likely to develop arthritis, and those are two lifestyle factors that you adjust to reduce your risk. Obesity places extra strain on your joints, which can lead to arthritis.
Unfortunately, your doctor may ask you to limit certain activities if they think your arthritis is caused by certain behaviors. If your favorite hobby places pressure on your joints, you may need to avoid it or change how you do it. For example, knitters with arthritis will use larger needles that are easier on their hands. Golfers with arthritis will add a series of warm-ups and stretches before they tee off for the day. These modifications can help you do the activities you love without causing additional pain.
There is no cure for arthritis. However, there are treatments that can lessen the pain of patients and help them regain their joint mobility. When you meet with your doctor to discuss your arthritis diagnosis, they will review your treatment options and how different activities can make you feel more comfortable.
The primary goal of arthritis treatment is to reduce your pain. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling in your joints. They may also recommend a medication to target your immune system’s inflammatory response.
Along with medication, your doctor can walk you through different activities to lessen your pain. These might range from soaking the affected areas in hot water (hydrotherapy) to changing how you work or complete day-to-day activities.
One of the main concerns with arthritis is the loss of mobility and range of motion caused by joint pain. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy and provide exercises for you to complete that lessen pain while allowing you to stay active.
Finally, your doctor may recommend cortisone shots to relieve pain and inflammation.
If left untreated, your arthritis symptoms will likely get worse. Your arthritis will continue to attack your joints and wear them down and can potentially spread to other joints. A few risks of failing to treat your arthritis include:
Increased joint pain and inflammation, decreased mobility.
The growth of fibrous tissue around the joints, causing them to fuse together.
Progression of arthritis into other parts of your body.
Potential damage to your major organs and other medical complications.
By catching arthritis early and starting a treatment plan, you can reduce the severe pain that often comes with this disease. You can also prevent complications related to your arthritis in the future. While there is no cure for arthritis, you can take steps to reduce its impact on your life.
If you experience pain or swelling in your joints, you may have arthritis. Your doctor can help you form a treatment plan to reduce your pain and prevent flare-ups.
If you have pain in your neck or back, you may have a form of degenerative disc disease that affects the cushions between your spine. When this occurs, movement is painful and you can lose your mobility if the condition is left untreated.
Dr. Todd Lanman at Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center specializes in working with patients who have worn or broken discs in their neck and spine. If your standard treatment plans fail, he may recommend artificial disc replacement surgery that can reduce your pain and increase your mobility. If you experience pain in your neck or back, request a consultation with Dr. Lanman and his clinical partner, Dr. Jason Cuéllar.
Dr. Lanman is the founder of Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center. He is Hollywood’s go-to Spinal Neurosurgeon and has helped countless A-list celebrities, C-suite executives, and athletes. He has a 30-year track record of helping patients restore their mobility and live pain-free. Dr. Lanman experienced back pain firsthand. He personally underwent nine spine surgeries – four cervical, five lumbar – to restore his mobility. His experience drives him to offer the best treatment to patients in Hollywood, Miami, and across the country,