Understanding Arthritis

Feeling a twinge of knee pain when you walk upstairs? Stiffness in your hands? Hips or back aching when you roll out of bed in the morning?

Those aches and pains might be signs of arthritis.

May is Arthritis Awareness Month, but if you experience joint pain or know someone who does, you are probably well aware of how annoying—or even disabling—symptoms can be.

What is Arthritis?

“Arthritis” literally means “pain in the joints” in Latin. The word was borrowed from the ancient Greek language, which means that inflammation in our joints has been troubling our species forever. Although arthritis is most common as we age, arthritis affects people of all ages, races and sexes.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. Here are some of the most well-known or common types:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease
  • Gout is another common form of inflammatory arthritis, usually affecting one joint at a time, often the big toe joint
  • Fibromyalgia can cause pain all over the body
  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, caused by the “wear and tear” that happens when the cartilage within a joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change, usually as we age

The U. S. Centers for Disease and Prevention list of common arthritis symptoms include:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • stiffness and diminished range of motion in joints—often in the hands, knees, hips, neck and lower back

What Causes Arthritis?

Arthritis aches and pains may have more than one cause, but the Arthritis Foundation points to some common factors:

  • Joint injury or overuse, which can damage a joint and increase the risk of arthritis in that joint.
  • Age
  • Being female. Women are more likely to develop arthritis, especially after age 50.
  • Obesity—extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
  • Genetics—if one or both of your parents has arthritis, you may be more likely to suffer too.

Black woman with arthritis symptoms yellow background

Can Arthritis Be Prevented?

We can’t do anything about our genetic predisposition to arthritis, or turn back time to eliminate the realities of aging. But we can take steps to reduce the risk of arthritis symptoms, according to experts at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:

Keep those joints moving

Physical therapists often tell patients, “motion is lotion,” because exercise lowers joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility and muscle strength. Focus on low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, or water exercises.

Manage your weight

If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help to lower pain, prevent more injury, and improve movement in your joints. Taking even a few pounds off can provide relief for your knees and hips.

Orthotics

Knee or ankle braces, for example, or shoe inserts, can all help with symptoms of arthritis. You can purchase them off-the-shelf, or talk to your healthcare provider about custom-fitted devices.

Stop Smoking

If you smoke, stop. The Mayo Clinic advises that smoking can cause stress to connective tissues, which can increase arthritis pain.

Talk to your healthcare provider for recommendations about diet and exercise to help lower your arthritis symptoms and risks.

What About Treatment?

You might want to try an over-the-counter medication to help manage arthritis symptoms or relieve occasional pain. Options include:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol, others)
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others)
  • or naproxen sodium (Aleve. Cream containing capsaicin may be applied to skin over a painful joint to relieve pain
More on Arthritis

Want to learn more about managing arthritis pain? We’ve got you covered with our Arthritis Pain Management Series part one and two

Heat or cold home therapies may offer relief, too. Heating pads (experts say no more than 20 minutes at a time), a hot bath, or warm shower can help relieve pain temporarily. Ice packs on sore muscles, also can relieve pain and inflammation after strenuous exercise.

Consult your healthcare provider if over-the-counter medications or home remedies don’t help. Your healthcare provider may recommend surgery if your joint problems are severe.

But above all, be good to yourself—the Mayo Clinic warns that depression can follow arthritis symptoms. If you do find yourself feeling despair about your arthritis pain, give proven mood-lifting treatments a try: take a walk, meditate, listen to music, treat yourself to a massage, or call a friend.

432 Comments
  • Teresa Hopper
    Posted at 23:16h, 20 May

    Good information

  • Crystal Martin Evans
    Posted at 19:19h, 20 May

    Thank you for this very helpful article.

  • Arlou Dia
    Posted at 06:02h, 17 May

    Thank you.

  • Maria Puma
    Posted at 16:08h, 16 May

    Thank you

  • Vincent
    Posted at 22:38h, 15 May

    Great information

  • Shirley Gregory
    Posted at 21:44h, 15 May

    Good information

  • Rodney Hairston
    Posted at 13:29h, 15 May

    Thanks

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