Howard, 45, an avid runner, started noticing foot pain while running. He tried a new brand of running shoe, massaged his feet and calves daily, and finally went to the doctor for pain relief. To Howard’s surprise, his doctor diagnosed him with osteoarthritis.
Like many people, Howard had mistakenly believed that arthritis affects only people of advanced age. But osteoarthritis, or OA, affects over 32.5 million U.S. adults of all ages. According to the CDC, within the next 20 years, an estimated 78 million Americans over the age of 18 will receive a diagnosis of some form of arthritis.
COMMON TYPES OF ARTHRITIS
Arthritis is a complex disease with over a hundred different types. Generally, these are divided into two major categories: inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia; and osteoarthritis, the most common form, which develops through wear and tear on the joints.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage, the body’s natural shock absorber that cushions the end of the bones in your joints, begins to deteriorate. When cartilage wears away sufficiently, the friction between your joints causes pain and stiffness. The joints most often affected are hips, knees, spine, and hands, but arthritis can affect any joint in the body.
While many cases of osteoarthritis are mild, especially at first onset, over time people living with arthritis report difficulties performing activities of daily living, such as dressing, exercising, climbing stairs, or stepping in and out of the shower.
Left untreated, arthritis can cause inflammation of the joint lining and the connective tissues that hold the joint together, leading to permanent joint damage. Inflammatory arthritis can lead to osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that increases the risk of fracture. Adults with arthritis are more than twice as likely to fall, and to be more seriously injured in a fall, than people without arthritis.
However, when diagnosed early, there are steps you can take that will minimize the impact of your arthritis and its interference in your daily life and activities.
SIGNS TO LOOK FOR
Osteoarthritis symptoms tend to come on slowly and worsen over time. You might notice pain while moving or stiffness when you first get up in the morning. Other signs include joint tenderness and swelling, reduced range of motion, or cracking or popping sounds when you move a joint.
If your symptoms seem to be worsening or just don’t go away, make an appointment with your doctor. Often an activity that involves repetitive motion while at work or while playing a sport may be causing undue wear and tear on your joints. Previous injuries may also be a contributing factor, as are age, race, and certain birth defects and metabolic diseases.
Your doctor will determine the type of arthritis you have. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a common form of inflammatory arthritis, usually affects multiple joints, often on both sides of the body. Joints tend to feel warm and tender to the touch. Other symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, or loss of appetite, may indicate a more serious problem. RA can affects people at any age, even children, so a diagnosis should be followed by a consultation with a rheumatologist.
Whenever joint pain is accompanied by fever, rash, or other unexplained symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as you can.
MANAGING YOUR ARTHRITIS
While nothing can cure or reverse the symptoms of osteoarthritis, there is much you can do to improve your quality of life.
- Move often. When reading, watching television, or sitting at a computer, get up and stretch every 15 minutes or so. Movement keeps your joints lubricated and helps prevent stiffness.
- Capitalize on your strengths. Instead of using your aching hands to open a heavy door, use your hip or shoulder. If you have back pain, store heavy items at eye level and use both hands to lift.
- Use adaptive devices. Long-handled grabbers help you reach objects on high or low shelves without climbing or stooping. Rubber grippers help you open jars or turn faucet handles. Ergonomic garden tools reduce stress on smaller joints in the fingers and wrists.
- Stay healthy. Get annual checkups, quit smoking, and move every day. Swimming, yoga, and walking are wonderful activities for relieving the aches and pains of arthritis. Just make sure you check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
“Arthritis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. Page last reviewed: May 13, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/index.htm
“Do I Have Arthritis?” Arthritis Foundation website. Accessed July 18, 2020. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/do-i-have-arthritis
“Five ways to keep arthritis from slowing you down.” Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/5-ways-to-keep-arthritis-from-slowing-you-down
“Osteoarthritis Medication and treatment.” Mayo Clinic website. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351930
“Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Mayo Clinic website. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648?p=1
“Signs of Arthritis.” Canadian Arthritis Society website. Accessed July 20, 2020. https://arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/signs-of-arthritis
Sohn, Emily. “I thought I was too young for arthritis. I was wrong.” The Washington Post. March 28, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/i-thought-i-was-too-young-for-arthritis-i-was-wrong/2016/03/28/c74184dc-ef73-11e5-a61f-e9c95c06edca_story.html