Understanding Arthritis

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of a joint. There are 3 types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritis and post-traumatic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and involves the cartilage at the ends of your bones slowly wearing away. The risk of getting osteoarthritis increases with age and is more commonly found in elderly people.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammation disorder characterized by the swelling of the lining of your joints (called the synovial membrane). You can get rheumatoid arthritis at any age, but it most commonly starts between the ages of forty to sixty.

Lastly there is post-traumatic arthritis, which is when arthritis develops where a previous injury took place, such as a fracture or torn ligament. Post-traumatic arthritis can take years to develop after the initial injury.  

There are six common symptoms that can indicate arthritis, including:

  • an increase in pain
  • swelling or tenderness
  • buckling or locking
  • cracking or popping sounds
  • poor range of motion 
  • loss of joint space

These are good to know, because by recognizing some of these early warning signs you can seek early treatment and reduce downtime caused by arthritis. The examples used below will focus on the knee as a reference, as this is a common spot for arthritis, but can apply to any joint.

With arthritis, the pain can seem to come on suddenly, but more commonly you’ll notice a gradual buildup of pain. For some people the pain is more prominent after extended inactivity, for example when first waking up in the morning. For others when doing certain activities, such as walking up stairs, will trigger the pain. Some reports suggest pain levels being affected by weather changes. Swelling or tenderness of the knee is also a common symptom, which is often worse after periods of inactivity (such as upon waking). While the knee is inflamed it may be red and/or warm to touch. 

As cartilage breaks down between the bones, rough edges of the bones, which are covered in spurs, rub against each other. This not only causes pain, but will begin to cause your knees to make cracking or popping sounds. This usually effects the range of motion the knee joint is capable of, often making simple activities more difficult. Eventually, loss of motion of the joint can even lead to needing a walker for support. As a result of reduced activity, the muscles around the knee weaken over time and can become unstable, leading to bucking or locking of the knee.

If you’re concerned you may have arthritis, a test can confirm it at your local doctor’s office. An x-ray will show the amount of space between joints and will indicate how far along the arthritis is. It’s always best to consult your doctor with any health concerns and if an x-ray confirms arthritis, there are several treatments the doctor can recommend to make you more comfortable. Unfortunately there is no complete cure for arthritis, but with today’s advances there is a lot that can be done to make living with arthritis less unpleasant.