How does arthritis signal its onset?  There are a variety of ways in which it lets one know that they may be heading for a problem.  Joints may suddenly turn stiff and creaky, knees may give a resounding crack when being straightened out, normal everyday tasks like opening a jar etc. might suddenly become a painful exercise. So, what is that all about??  Let’s study the basics on arthritis and know more.

Arthritis means ‘inflammation of the joint’ and it can occur in over a 100 different forms or types.  Detection of arthritis at an early stage is very important.  Left untreated and allowed to advance, arthritis can result in irreversible damage to the joints.

Although there are around 100 different forms of arthritis, the two most common ones are:

  1. Osteoarthritis (OA); and
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

In the case of OA, overuse or misuse of the joints causes the cartilage cushioning the joint to wear down and results in the bones rubbing together.  Most common in the knees, this can occur often in the hands, spine or hip too.  Initially, there is not much pain.  It’s only much later that the pain makes itself felt.  But by then a significant amount of cartilage loss would have occurred.

RA occurs when the body’s immune system starts attacking joint tissues.  Although not as yet fully understood by the medical community, RA normally shows up in an individual’s hands, wrists and feet and then moves on to the elbows, shoulders and hips.

 Although the causes for these two forms of arthritis are different, the symptoms they manifest are similar.  These include stiffness, pain, a feeling of weakness, fatigue, mild fever and inflamed tissue lumps below the skin.  Also, they both (OA and RA) generally develop in a symmetric fashion i.e. the same joints on both sides of the body, left and right, get affected simultaneously.

The major difference between OA and RA is with reference to the type of swelling that occurs.  In the case of OA, those affected report having ‘bony and hard’ swelling, while RA afflicted persons speak of the swelling being ‘soft and squishy’.

The other difference is that RA is more likely to occur if it already runs in the family, i.e. if a parent or sibling has it.  A person with a history of damage to the joint on account of chronic strain or past injury runs a higher risk of developing OA.
Studies conducted suggest that:

  • Although arthritis can afflict any age group, it seems to be more prevalent in those above the age of 45. 
  • While both genders can be afflicted, women account for 74% (a little over 15 million) of OA cases, and a slightly lower percentage in the case of RA.
  • After the age of 45, people who are overweight have a greater chance of developing OA, particularly in the knees.  Losing that excess weight however, can turn the odds by nearly half.  Strengthening joint muscles and reducing wearing out of the joints, through regular judicious activity and appropriate exercise can reduce the risk of developing OA.

There are no cure-all solutions for arthritis.  However, the good news is that there are available, a number of treatment strategies for pain relief.  Medication, replacement alternatives and other helpful options are available.  But the main relief aids for arthritis consist of gentle exercise, right nutrition, rest and above all, a positive attitude.

We will be dealing with all these in the coming sections because it’s important to get educated instead of falling prey to myths and old wives tales surrounding arthritis.  It is important to note that in today’s age, only a small percentage of those at the effect of the disease become crippled or need the help of canes, wheelchairs or other ambulatory aids. 

Note: If you think you may have arthritis, always seek medical advice.    Healthcare providers are better qualified to determine whether you actually have arthritis or are suffering instead, from a case of viral infection, tendonitis or something else that if untreated, could worsen.   Bottom line – always seek medical advice if you suspect you may be going in for arthritis.



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