5 Things You Should Know About Arthritis

Arthritis has an immense impact on people of all age groups.

Nathan Kaplan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Nathan Kaplan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

It affects the joints and tissues which can cause severe pain and swelling. Arthritis is a progressive disorder, which starts gradually and gets worse with time. More than 54.4 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Chronic medical problems like kidney and liver disease, some medications, and the presence or absence of other protective structures that protect the cartilage and allow the joint to function normally can cause arthritis,” said Nathan Kaplan, board-certified orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The health and durability of this special tissue is dependent on the forces and impact that are imparted to the joint, the patient’s genetics, the environment and nutrients available for healing.”

Arthritis can be an umbrella word and a very generalized term which covers many conditions such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus and gout. With each condition there are various forms of wear and tear along with joint inflammation whether that be in the hip, knee or small joints of the hand, feet and spine. The most common form of arthritis is a condition in which the cartilage, or special tissue that coats the ends of bones within a joint, wears down with time.

Kaplan explained five aspects of arthritis.

1. Misconceptions
Whether it is home remedies, inaccurate Internet fixes or just plain personal opinions, there remains many myths about how to turn back the clock on arthritis. Some think that it will simply get better on its own which incorrectly has caused many patients to delay needed joint replacement surgery where they have lived in pain for years unnecessarily.

“Some people think non-surgical treatment options are just Band-Aid solutions,” said Kaplan. “While surgical treatments can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life, however, not all joint pain should be treated with joint replacement. In many cases, it is better to wait, or treat the symptoms without surgery to avoid the risk of long-term complications that can be very debilitating.”
He also cautioned against the idea that arthritis is genetic.

“While a predisposition to developing arthritis can be inherited, it does not guarantee that you will need your hip replaced simply because a parent had both,” he said. “The development of arthritis is affected by many factors that can be controlled and modified by any individual patient to avoid symptoms or progressive disease.”

2. Symptoms
Common symptoms include swelling of the joints, slight pain in joints in regular movements, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms can come and go, sometimes they can be mild, moderate or severe. They can stay the same for years or get worse over time. Inflammation is a chemical reaction that stems from normal immune function and produces five classic signs: pain, swelling, warmth, heat, and loss of function.

“These symptoms are generally reported by patients as grinding, crunching, clicking, and catching, amongst others,” said Kaplan. “Sometimes these sensations can be directly associated with pain. Loss of supportive tissue in a joint can lead to changes in alignment, like bowing of the leg.”

3. Common treatments
With arthritis, many orthopedic doctors treat the condition non-surgical first using braces for knee and hip problems. The brace helps stabilize the joints, especially for those who experience falls.

There are also ways to strengthen core and back muscles to help with the joints. There are many different types of direct injectable materials that can relieve pain such as steroids or cortisone.

“The non-surgical treatment options for arthritis are aimed at controlling the symptoms produced secondary to inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s general response to something not working properly, and it produces typical symptoms that trouble patients with arthritis,” said Kaplan. “Maintaining a healthy weight and fit lifestyle with low-moderate impact activity helps to nourish and strengthen cartilage and structures that support the joint including the underlying bone. Strengthening the muscles that surround the joint will help offload forces across the joint to minimize repetitive damage.”

In addition, physical therapy comes in many forms but is overall targeted to help patients achieve these goals and can be one of the best long-term interventions to control symptoms. Some even incorporate less traditional techniques like water-based therapy, acupuncture and massage. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol can help decrease pain, while anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen can directly block the chemical pathways that lead to inflammation in the body.

“Use caution taking these medications as there are potential adverse effects that patients should not only be counseled on, but monitored for. Ask your doctor for guidance on taking these medications and always notify your primary care doctor if you start taking any new medications,” added Kaplan.

4. Don’t ignore the pain
The pain and functional limitations associated with progressive arthritis can lead to difficulties completing regular activities of daily living. Joint pain is one of the leading causes of missed work and loss of income, but most importantly, it interferes with our ability to enjoy our recreational time. “Activity limitation can lead to progressive deterioration in heart, lung and other major organ function, worsening certain chronic medical conditions,” said Kaplan. “The symptoms of arthritis can overlap with the symptoms of more serious musculoskeletal conditions and it’s important to make sure that a condition with dire implications isn’t missed.” In addition, if you have questions about musculoskeletal conditions, you may want to visit sites like https://www.hingehealth.com/blog/digital-health-benefits-musculoskeletal-conditions/ for more info.

5. Listen to your body
Arthritis is a very prevalent condition that impacts the lives of millions of Americans each year. Many resources have been dedicated to understanding the condition and its management.
“Don’t hesitate to seek the care of a provider if you begin to develop symptoms. We are here to help from the early stages onward. Your primary care doctor can help start the process and, in some cases, initiate treatment. Prevention, in the form of lifestyle modification, is paramount and we can help provide resources and counseling,” Kaplan said.