About 58.5 million people in the United States have some form of arthritis, which means that one in four Americans understand the pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited range of motion arthritis causes.
While arthritis is more common in older adults, people can develop arthritis at any age – even during childhood.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that affects your joints, which is where your bones meet and move. Soft connective tissue, known as cartilage, cushions and supports the bones of the joints to prevent your bones from rubbing together when you move the joint. Some joints feature a synovial membrane, which is a pocket of fluid that lubricates your joints. Ligaments connect bones to other bones to create joints, while tendons connect muscles to your bones to help you move your joints.
Arthritis tends to affect certain joints of the body, including:
- Lower back
Types of Arthritis
The word ‘arthritis’ is an umbrella term that covers more than 100 different joint problems. Each form of arthritis can cause different symptoms and may require different treatments. The most common types of arthritis include:
Rheumatoid arthritis – causes your immune system to attack the synovial membranes of your joints.
Osteoarthritis – also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis develops when repeated stress breaks down joint cartilage; osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 32.5 million US adults.
Ankylosing spondylitis – also known as “arthritis of the spine,” this form of arthritis typically affects the lower back
Juvenile arthritis (JA) – this form of arthritis usually affects children 16 and younger; it develops when the immune system attacks the tissue around the joints
Gout – occurs when hard crystals of uric acid form in your joints; causes severe pain, swelling, and redness in joints, usually the big toe
Each type of arthritis may present different symptoms, which can include:
Severity of symptoms can range from mild in some people to severe in others. Joint stiffness or other symptoms may be constant, or symptoms may come and go.
What Causes Arthritis?
Arthritis may develop as the result of:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Wear and tear from overuse
- Muscle weakness
Arthritis Treatment and Diagnosis
To diagnose arthritis, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how joint pain affects your everyday life. Your practitioner will also perform a physical exam, which may include assessing your mobility and range of motion in that joint and checking for redness or swelling in and around the affected joint. Your doctor might also ask about your general health to rule out any other conditions that might be causing your symptoms.
Imaging tests, such as an x-ray, MRI, or ultrasound, can give your healthcare team a clear view of what is happening with your bones, joints, and soft tissue. Imaging can reveal bone fractures or soft tissue injuries near the affected joint, for example, or find cartilage breakdown or soft tissue inflammation.
While there is no cure for arthritis, treatment can help you manage your condition. Your treatment plan depends largely on the type of arthritis you have, the severity of your symptoms, and your overall health. Rheumatoid arthritis treatment may involve the use of anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), for example. Treatment may include:
Medication – anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication help you control discomfort from all types of arthritis, while biologics target your immune system’s inflammatory response that cause symptoms of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis
Physical therapy – improves strength, range of motion, and mobility for all types of arthritis
Cortisone shots – injections that temporarily relieve pain and inflammation
Surgery – surgery is typically reserved for only the most severe cases of arthritis that have not responded to other treatments; surgery involves either fusion to fuse two bones together to immobilize the joint or joint replacement that replaces the entire joint with an artificial joint
The physicians at New England Neurology deliver the highest quality health care to the Merrimack Valley, and provide exceptional arthritis treatment. Our neurology team is skilled in administering medications to help ease the symptoms of arthritis. Contact us today to learn more.