Arthritis is a term used to describe more than 100 different
conditions that affect the joints in the body. The word “arthritis”
actually means inflammation of a joint. Almost every animal that can
walk is susceptible to this inflammation. Although many types of
arthritis have common aspects, each type has its own pattern of symptoms
and affects different people in different ways.
Two major forms
of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In cases of
rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system appears to go awry and
attacks healthy parts of the body, particularly the joints. In severe
cases, the joints become deformed and internal organs are adversely
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of
arthritis, is also called degenerative joint disease or "wear and tear"
arthritis. Almost everyone is affected by it to some extent as they grow
older. It most frequently occurs in weight-bearing joints, mainly
knees, hips and ankles.
This form of arthritis slowly
and gradually breaks down the cartilage that covers the ends of each
bone in a joint. Normally, cartilage acts as a shock absorber, providing
a smooth surface between the bones; but, with osteoarthritis, the
smooth surface becomes rough and pitted. In advanced stages, it may wear
away completely. Without their normal gliding surfaces, the bones grind
against one another, causing inflammation, pain and restricted
movement. In osteoarthritis of the knee, the shape of the bone and
appearance of the leg may change over the years. Many people become
bowlegged or knock-kneed. In osteoarthritis of the hip, the affected leg
may appear shorter.
While there is no cure for
arthritis, advances in technology continue to develop new ways to manage
symptoms of osteoarthritis. The goals of treatment are to reduce pain,
increase the strength of the joints, maintain or improve joint movement
and reduce the disabling effects of osteoarthritis. Treatment often depends on the joints involved and can include medicines, lifestyle changes, physical therapy and surgery.
most common medications used to treat osteoarthritis are pain relievers
known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include
aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen and can be either over-the-counter or
prescription medications. While NSAIDs often work well, long-term use of
these drugs is not recommended as they can cause stomach problems,
increased risk of heart attack or stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Another medicine used to treat osteoarthritis is
cortisone, a steroid injected directly into the joint. Cortisone
injections are used to treat inflammation of the joint and pain. For
some people these injections can reduce or relieve osteoarthritis
symptoms for months or even years.
In addition to
medication, there are a variety of lifestyle changes that can offer
relief of osteoarthritis symptoms. These can include:
- Ice treatments – Ice packs on the knee (three times daily, 10-20 minutes
at a time) can be helpful for inflammation and temporary relief of pain
- Heat – Applying heat can be beneficial to warm up the joint prior to exercise or activity.
- Diet – While there is no evidence that any specific foods will prevent
or relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, a balanced diet is important to
maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can aggravate arthritis by
putting added pressure on the joints.
- Exercise and
physical therapy can be beneficial in reducing symptoms of
osteoarthritis by improving muscle strength and regaining motion in
stiff joints. Water exercises, such as swimming, can be especially
helpful as they provide exercise in a low-impact environment.
some cases, surgery can be the best treatment option for
osteoarthritis. The most common joint surgeries for osteoarthritis
relief are arthroscopy and joint replacement. Arthroscopy is a
minimally-invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat conditions of
the joint using a small instrument that allows surgeons to see inside a
joint and repair problems through a very small incision. Unfortunately,
arthroscopic procedures generally are not helpful for arthritis. In some
cases, a flap of torn knee cartilage can aggravate arthritis and cause
additional pain. The cartilage flap can be removed by arthroscopy and
may reduce or eliminate the pain.
surgery can be a very effective solution to the pain and disability of
advanced osteoarthritis. During joint replacement, the rough, worn
surfaces of the joint are relined with smooth-surfaced metal and plastic