Is Your Joint Pain Arthritis?

Starting the car, walking up the stairs, or simply reaching for a coffee mug in the cabinet: The pain and inflammation of arthritis can show up at any time. That's why it's important to understand the difference between a wrenched muscle and true joint pain.

"Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and can affect people of all ages—even active young adults," says Edward V.A. Lim, MD, orthopaedic surgeon with The Christ Hospital Physicians. 

In fact, about one in five Americans of all ages suffer from this form of "wear and tear" arthritis. 

Early warning signs of arthritis

Much like the rubber on your tires wears away after years of driving, cartilage on the joints' surfaces can deteriorate with overuse and age, leading to painful bone-on-bone contact.

Arthritis symptoms can include: 

  • ongoing joint pain
  • joint swelling or stiffness
  • warmth and redness in a joint
  • loss of range of motion

"If symptoms don't go away after three weeks of rest or modifying your activities, it's time to see your doctor for a diagnosis," Dr. Lim advises.

In addition to joint pain, unmanaged arthritis can cause decreased range of motion and muscle pain in the hands, wrists, shoulder, knees and hips.

"And when you have limited range of motion, you're less physically active, which can cause weight gain and stress your cardiovascular system," explains Dr. Lim. 

Treating arthritis pain

If your doctor diagnoses you with arthritis, he or she may first recommend nonsurgical approaches to stop or prevent arthritis pain. Nonsurgical approaches include:

  • modifying your exercise routine to help you avoid arthritis pain

  • keeping a healthy weight to minimize strain on joints in the lower extremities

  • toning your joints to keep ligaments and muscles limber

If nonsurgical approaches don't improve your pain, surgical treatments can repair or replace the damaged joint. Surgical treatment options include:

  • Arthroscopic surgery. During this minimally invasive procedure, surgeons use a small scope to examine and remove damaged cartilage. 

  • Partial and total joint replacement surgery. This replaces the worn surfaces of the knee, hip or shoulder joint with smooth-surfaced metal and plastic components. The durable materials used in replacement surgery let patients continue the activities they enjoy pain-free for 15 years or more in many cases.