Arthritis can be a very painful disease. But, the good thing is that it doesn’t hit us suddenly. There are warning signs. But, unfortunately, some people just ignore these signs and keep on going. Don’t be one of those people.
It’s not unusual to experience pain in your joints on occasion, especially if you’re active and participate in high-impact activities such as dancing or running.
But if you start experiencing aching, pain and stiffness on a routine basis — and particularly if the pain is right at the joint — you may be developing arthritis.
And, while arthritis does affect senior citizens, primarily — more than half of arthritis patients are younger than 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting around 54 million people. That’s huge!
Keep in mind that arthritis actually describes over 100 different conditions that affect joints and the surrounding tissue. They fall into two main categories: inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis (OA).
Inflammatory arthritis is a disease in which the mechanisms that normally protect your body attack your own joints and tissues instead. The most well-known example is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Its major symptom is prolonged stiffness and achiness in the morning after waking up. RA also tends to be symmetrical, meaning you’ll have problems in the same joints on both sides of your body, like both wrists or both knees.
The second type of arthritis — and the most common form — is osteoarthritis (OA). This is a degenerative disorder and it’s caused by trauma or age-related wear and tear on your joints over time. Osteoarthritis is most likely to affect joints such as the knees, hip, lower spine or big toe, but it can also cause pain in your thumb or finger joints.
Arthritis: Warning Signs
Here are the most common warning signs:
- Pain right at the joint itself (most commonly a knee, hip, spine, or big toe)
- Swelling around the joint
- Pain, discomfort or stiffness (which may be triggered by being active)
You should see a doctor right away if one of your joints suddenly becomes swollen, red and hot to the touch. The same advice holds if you can’t bear weight on it at all, as these signs can indicate since gout or serious infection.
At this time, there is no cure for this disease — all you can really do is minimize the pain and stiffness.
Here are several things that can help you reduce the pain and stiffness:
Weight loss: Extra pounds you’re carrying are putting stress on your joints. For every pound you carry, the force on your knee is multiplied by three. If you gain 10 pounds, your knee feels 30 pounds of pressure. Maintaining an ideal body weight is important.
Exercise: Physical activity helps reduce pain and improve movement. Keeping the muscles around your joint active and strong is key in protecting and stabilizing the joint. Try low-impact activities like cycling or swimming as they’re easy on the joints and provides good motion to the affected areas.
Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you specific exercises to do to strengthen the muscles around your joint. They also work with you to correct any gait abnormalities that are putting extra stress on your knees, feet or hips.
Medication: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the safest over-the-counter pain reliever for long-term use. In addition, anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil or Motrin may be more effective if your joints are swollen and feel warm to the touch.
Topical treatments: Over-the-counter or prescription creams and sports ointments can help relieve pain. Some patients have also reported success with cannabidiol (CBD) oils.
Joint supports or splints: A splint or brace can help support and protect a damaged joint. Some immobilize and rest the joint in the ideal position to minimize stress. Others provide support while you perform a task. Examples include wrist splints, knee braces and orthotics.
Injections: Cortisone helps for short-term relief. It’s a short-term treatment as recent studies show that repeated cortisone injections can lead to more joint damage and pain.
Surgery: Eventually, your doctor may recommend surgery to replace or stabilize your joint. There are many different surgical options, depending on where you have pain and how bad it is. For severe cases, you may need a total joint replacement.