WHAT IS IT?
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints, causing pain and stiffness. Arthritis of weight-bearing joints can keep you from walking comfortably. In some cases, joints may become twisted and deformed.
Osteoarthritis involves wear-and-tear damage to your joint’s cartilage — the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones. Enough damage can cause the bone to grind directly on bone, producing pain, and restricting movement. The wear and tear can occur over many years, or it may be hastened by a joint injury or an infection.
The body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. The disease can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint. It can lead to joint erosion as well.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
- Family history. Some types of arthritis run in families. You may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents or siblings have the disorder.
- Age. The risk of many types of arthritis increases with age.
- Sex. Women are more likely than are men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
- Previous joint injury. People who’ve injured a joint, perhaps while playing a sport, are at increased risk.
- Obesity. Excess pounds put stress on joints, particularly your knees, hips, and spine. Obese people are at higher risk.
- Decreased range of motion
WHAT TESTS TO EXPECT?
1. Laboratory tests
Fluids commonly analyzed include blood, urine, and joint fluid. To obtain a sample of your joint fluid, a needle is inserted into the joint space, and fluid is withdrawn.
2. Imaging tests
- X-rays. X-rays can show cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs. X-rays may be used to track the progression of the disease.
- Computerized tomography (CT). CT scan takes X-rays from many different angles and combines the information. CT scans can visualize both bone and the surrounding soft tissues.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI can produce more-detailed cross-sectional images of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
- Ultrasound. It uses high-frequency sound waves to show soft tissues, cartilage, and fluid-containing structures.
Your doctor may look for damage in your joint by inserting a small, flexible tube (arthroscope) through an incision near the joint. The arthroscope transmits images from inside the joint to a video screen.
- Analgesics. They help reduce pain but have no effect on inflammation.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs reduce both pain and inflammation.
- Counterirritants. Some creams and ointments contain menthol or capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers spicy.
Physical therapy can be helpful for some types of arthritis. Exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding joints. In some cases, splints or braces may be warranted.
To lessen symptoms of arthritis, consider:
- Weight loss. If you’re obese, losing weight will reduce the stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps keep your joints flexible. Swimming and water aerobics may be good choices because the buoyancy of the water reduces stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Heat and cold. Heating pads or ice packs may help relieve pain.
- Yoga or tai chi. The slow, stretching movements associated with therapies may help improve joint flexibility and range of motion.
- Massage. Light stroking and kneading of muscles may increase blood flow and warm affected joints, temporarily relieving pain.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.