Arthritis is a health condition or disease that affects the joints, generally causing them to be stiff and painful. Many types of chronic arthritis can eventually cause damage to joint structures. Arthritis is an unfortunately common medical condition and affects almost 60 million American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Did you know that there are over 100 different types of arthritis? The characteristics of each type of arthritis vary from condition to condition, meaning that they have other causes and symptoms and respond to different treatments. This article will explore different types of arthritis, their symptoms, causes, and treatments. If you’re experiencing arthritis, then arming yourself with knowledge is the first step to effective treatment.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a general term for inflammation and pain in a joint or joints. Arthritis types include rheumatoid, osteoarthritis, and gout, to name a few. This medical condition affects the structure of a joint. A joint is where two bones meet and their supportive structures. These include:
- Ligaments, which are strong, fibrous, and flexible pieces of connective tissue that join two bones together.
- Tendons, which are connective tissue that connects bones to muscles.
- Cartilage, which is a supple, moist, smooth piece of connective tissue that cushions the bones in a joint, allowing them to move freely.
- Synovial fluid fills and lubricates a joint.
Through inflammation, arthritis can cause damage to these joint components and structures. Arthritis can also affect other parts of the body, such as the skin, eyes, and heart. If you think you have arthritis or are developing it, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective they are and the more likely you are to prevent long-term damage.
One of the more common arthritis types is RA. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have pain and inflammation in your hands, feet, or knees. One defining characteristic of RA is that pain is often on both sides of the body; e.g., both hands or knees will hurt, rather than the pain being localized to one side. Other symptoms of RA include:
Rheumatoid arthritis is a unique type of arthritis where the body’s immune system malfunctions and starts to attack the joints, specifically the cartilage, which is the cushioning between bones in a joint. This is also called an autoimmune disease. There is a genetic component to developing RA; additionally, smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of developing RA. While this is not yet an established cause, researchers have noted a difference in the gut microbiomes of RA patients. Your gut microbiome is all of the healthy bacteria in your gut and the ecosystem they create. RA patients have decreased diversity in their microbiome and an increase in gut bacteria that changes the permeability of your gut, which is related to how severe RA can become.
The main goals of RA treatment are to manage pain and swelling and to preserve joint health and function. The sooner you start treating your RA, the better. Treatments include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- COX-2 inhibitors
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors
- Lifestyle modifications like dietary changes, rest, exercise, and weight loss
- Surgery for severely damaged joints
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints. It can affect a single joint or multiple joints.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective, cushioning tissue called cartilage starts to break down or degrade. This leads to bone rubbing on bone which is very painful and can cause further damage to the joint. There is no single known cause, though injuries to a joint earlier in life seem to have a correlation, as do genetics and obesity.
The goal of osteoarthritis treatment is to manage pain and stiffness and maintain physical functioning. Treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Weight loss
- Medications such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen, duloxetine, and tramadol
- Topical pain relieving (analgesic) creams with capsaicin, salicylates, counterirritants, and diclofenac
- Injections: corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid
- Hot and cold therapy
- Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep breathing for increased relaxation
- Orthotic devices like braces or splints
- Radiofrequency ablation
- A more healthy lifestyle
Juvenile arthritis is a blanket term for a range of diseases that cause swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is arthritis in children with an unknown cause and is the most common type of juvenile arthritis. While it’s normal for kids to have some joint pain as they grow, if your child has red and painful joints for longer than six weeks, it’s time to take them to the doctor. Symptoms range from case to case; some cases can be pretty mild, while others are more severe. Other symptoms include:
- Recurring fever
- Loss of weight
- Redness or pain in the eyes
- Blurry vision
It’s generally believed that the immune system attacking healthy cells is what causes juvenile arthritis. This cellular attack causes inflammation in the joints, which causes pain and can lead to joint damage.
- Regular exercise to build strength and maintain flexibility
- Cold and hot therapy with alternating heating pads and ice packs
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight
- Nutritional supplementation with calcium
- Medications like NSAIDs, DMARDs, corticosteroids, and biologic response modifiers
- Physical therapy
Gout is a type of arthritis. This disease causes inflammation of the joints in episodic events. During an acute event, an afflicted joint may swell to a much larger size and become extremely sensitive and painful. With gout, there is a build-up of uric acid in the joints. The uric acid crystalizes in the joint in needle shapes and causes a great deal of pain.
Gout is a metabolic disorder and may come from high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream, but researchers remain unsure. In any case, uric acid does play a role in gout, and higher levels in the bloodstream may stem from the kidneys failing to remove enough from the blood. There could also be a hereditary component to gout as well. A lack of fluid in the joints is also thought to lead to gout, as too little fluid allows more painful uric acid crystals to form.
The goal of gout treatment is twofold; one, to reduce pain and discomfort during an acute episode, and two, to prevent more attacks in the long term. Gout is typically treated with anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs, indomethacin, or naproxen. Steroids are also a standard gout treatment. Your doctor may combine medications or consider an older gout medication called colchicine. However, this medication is slow to work and has undesirable side effects, so it isn’t often used today. Other treatments for long-term relief include dietary changes such as reducing your intake of fish, other seafood, meat, and alcohol, and medication to reduce uric acid in your blood (allopurinol).
Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include chronic, painful inflammation of the joints and tendon and ligament connections. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. Other symptoms include:
- Stiffness in the joints
Without treatment, this condition can cause permanent joint damage.
Psoriasis is a disease of the immune system where the body attacks itself. This is caused by the immune system working incorrectly. While usually associated with skin issues, psoriasis can present arthritic symptoms.
- Light therapy
- Topical creams with pain-relieving ingredients
- Eating a healthy diet
- Nutritional supplementation
Ankylosing spondylitis is a specific type of arthritis that affects the spinal column. Your spinal column is made up of flexible yet strong, interlocking joints called vertebrae, and they enclose and protect the spinal cord, which is the core bundle of nerves that extend from the brain and enervate the whole body. Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation in the joints of the spine, which can cause symptoms ranging from stiffness to the joints fusing together. Other parts of the body may start being affected by the stiffness in the spine, such as the hips, chest/ribs, shoulders, and knees.
Ankylosing spondylitis can be caused by genetics, particularly if you have a family history of this disease. Unlike other kinds of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis is most often seen in people under the age of 45. Additionally, men are more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis.
The first step in treating ankylosing spondylitis is to receive a diagnosis, which may involve several different methods, including an oral history, a physical exam, and tests like X-rays. There is no single cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but treatments include:
- Pain medication to ease symptoms
- Physical therapy for:
- Pain reduction,
- Increasing muscle strength
- Supporting good posture
- Keeping joints flexible
3. Surgery for severe joint damage
Self-Treatment for Arthritis with YouMari
YouMari is an advance self-treatment program that combines a detailed assessment of your pain or issue and provides a DIY course of treatment that includes stretching, exercises and self-massage. Bring the physical therapist into your home with YouMari! As you’ve seen above, exercise, massage, and physical therapy are all recommended treatments for arthritis. Exercise increases strength and stretching and massage relieve pain. Treat yourself and find relief at home with YouMari!