Alert

Published on May 31, 2021

One in five Americans lives with arthritis pain

By Andrew Rudins, M.D., Physiatrist

Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, a department of Pardee UNC Health Care

Pain from chronic arthritis affects nearly every area of a person’s life. It can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning, perform activities of daily living like bathing and getting dressed, work, walk, travel and visit with loved ones. Unfortunately, arthritis is incredibly common: more than one in five American adults (53 million) have the disease. And it affects approximately 300,000 infants, children and teens.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general word to describe joint disease or joint pain. It’s most common in older adults and women, but anyone can develop arthritis, regardless of age, sex and race.

The condition is usually caused by either wear-and-tear on the joints (osteoarthritis) or inflammation (such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, gout and lupus).

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is common with age and develops when joint-cushioning cartilage wears away, causing bones to rub against each other. Besides age, other risk factors for osteoarthritis include being overweight or obese, having a family history of arthritis, or a prior joint injury (like an ACL tear in the knee).

Mild to moderate symptoms can often be managed with regular exercise (like walking and strength training), rest, heating pads, ice packs, over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, splints and braces, and using an assistive device like a walker or cane as needed. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce the pressure on your joints. More advanced treatments include joint injections, typically using corticosteroids. However, newer injectable treatments which improve the function of the joint and have fewer side-effects are now available.

Severe forms of osteoarthritis may need to be treated with surgery, such as joint replacement surgery.

Inflammatory arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, which leads to inflammation and pain. The most common forms of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.

Your genetics and environment may increase your risk of inflammatory arthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis can damage the joints, skin, eyes and internal organs. This is why early detection and proper treatment are crucial. Some therapies can slow the progression of the disease, reducing pain and preventing additional joint damage.

Arthritis symptoms

Both forms of arthritis can cause joint pain, swelling, redness, warmth and stiffness. The condition can affect your range of motion and ability to walk or climb stairs. It can also lead to permanent joint changes (like knobby finger joints).

How to prevent arthritis

You can reduce your risk of arthritis and help improve symptoms by maintaining a healthy body weight, taking regular breaks from repetitive movements, maintaining good posture, getting regular exercise (walking is one of the best things you can do if you have pain from arthritis), eating healthy foods, and limiting your intake of alcohol, sugar, dairy, and meat. A whole food plant-based diet offers the most benefit in managing arthritis, particularly the inflammatory forms.

If you have any signs of arthritis, talk to your physician. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the more can be done to prevent or reduce long-term damage. To find a provider near you, visit www.pardeehospital.org.

Dr. Rudins is a board-certified physiatrist at Southeastern Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, a department of Pardee UNC Health Care.

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