The word arthritis comes from the Greek and literally means joint inflammation (arthr – joint, itis – inflammation). Most people assume it’s one illness but actually arthritis is an umbrella term covering over a hundred different diseases.
What they almost all have in common however is that they tend to affect the areas around the joints, muscles or tendons whilst a few can affect the skin or internal organs.
Over 10 million people have arthritis in the UK and whilst it can affect anyone (from children up) arthritis tends to be most common in the elderly.
It can vary from person to person, from a minor annoyance to debilitating pain with symptoms most often presenting as stiffness, joint pain, fatigue tenderness, redness or even warmth/heat in the joints.
These can also be accompanied with other symptoms such as weight loss, fever, weakness and nausea.
Some people might only have a few joints affected whilst for others it can be all over their body.
In short, it’s always best to try and keep joints and muscles as active as possible. The less a joint is moved the more the muscles around it will weaken/deteriorate. This can then exacerbate any arthritis that’s already there.
We do know it can be difficult to move a joint with arthritis both because of the stiffness itself and for the fact that it will hurt to do so.
A doctor or occupational therapist will demonstrate certain exercises to help along with when to apply heat or cold to the affected joint. In fact one of the main pain reliefs that’s recommended for arthritic pain is a long soak in a hot bath and for people with arthritis there’s plenty of bath lifts to help them in and out of the bath.
Joints can make a variety of noises, some of which are harmless, others less so. You may have heard someone ‘pop’ their knuckles. By forcing a joint in a certain way you trap an air bubble there which will make the popping noise.
Other joints might crack as the ligaments and tendons surrounding them pass over bumps in the bone. You may have noticed this in people who ‘crack’ their neck a lot.
Arthritic joints can also make cracking noises when you move and are caused by the roughness of the joint surface over bone due to the loss of cartilage.
Although it’s always been a popular idea there’s absolutely no evidence that cracking your knuckles can directly cause arthritis.
That being said however, a repeated injury to a joint which causes it to swell can injure the cartilage which may lead to problems such as arthritis in later life… So probably a good idea to avoid it just in case.
There are several things you can do to stave off arthritis in later life such as quitting smoking and exercising regularly. If you’d like to know more the full list can be found in our recent article, 8 Simple Steps To Avoiding Arthritis In Late Life>>
If you feel you’re at risk from developing arthritis our advice would be to always speak to your doctor about it.
There are several symptoms that you can look out for yourself though.
It’s important to remember that the pain caused by arthritis can either be permanent or can come and go; it may flare up after you’ve been moving around for awhile or if you’ve been sat/lay still for a long period. It can be localised to just one spot or multiple spots.
With so many different types of arthritis there isn’t one hard and fast rule.
You’ll most probably find your joints are stiff and difficult to move and everyday tasks like getting in and out of the bath become difficult.
Certain types of arthritis will cause swelling or inflammation to joints which you can detect by the skin appearing red or hot to the touch over the joint. Other types of arthritis will also cause fatigue.
If you notice anything like this speak to your GP.
With over 100 different types of arthritis the causes are varied and unfortunately most of them are currently unknown.
That being said however, there’s a lot of research being done at the moment into three different factors that could play a big role in developing arthritis.
Early diagnosis of arthritis is vital in slowing the onset of the disease and preventing joint damage.
With over 100 different types it’s not always easy to diagnose the type of arthritis you may have so the more you can help your doctor the easier things will be in the long run.
The first step is reporting and suspected symptoms early. As we’ve already said, if you’re worried go see your doctor ASAP.
They’ll be the only ones who can definitively say if you’ve arthritis and what type it is.
When you first go to your doctor several different things might happen. They’ll ask questions about your symptoms whilst examining the affected joints and maybe order some X-rays or other tests.
You can help this process by keeping a diary of your symptoms before you go to see them.
Where is the pain, how bad was it, when did it occur and what were you doing just before hand?
It will probably take several visits and several tests before you get a definite answer as to what kind of arthritis (if any) you have.
It’s important to bear in mind that some arthritic symptoms can develop slowly over several years whilst some can present with an acute onset.
Whilst early diagnosis through a doctor is important the most important person involved in treating arthritis is the person with arthritis.
There are several steps someone with arthritis will need to take to help slow down and treat the disease as well as prevent permanent joint damage.
With over 100 different types of arthritis we obviously can’t list them all for you here however we have listed several of the most common types of arthritis:
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and unfortunately tends to affect us as we get older. Often known as degenerative arthritis as it breaks down cartilage and bones which causes stiffness, discomfort and pain.
Osteoarthritis usually affects peoples fingers first as well as any weight bearing joints such as feet, knees, hips and back.
It can affect both men and women and is usually first noticed after the age of 45.
Treating osteoarthritis or the symptoms of osteoarthritis is done through pain killers or anti inflammatory drugs, exercise, heat or cold treatments such as hot baths with the aid of a bath lift and in certain circumstances surgery.
Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is an arthritis that affects the muscles and how they attach to the bone.
People with fibromyalgia are likely to have widespread pain as well as tender points all over their body which will be much more sensitive to pain.
Other symptoms may include fatigue, broken sleep, stiffness and sometimes even psychological distress.
Fibromyalgia affects mostly women and whilst it’s a common form of arthritis it’s often misdiagnosed at first.
Treatments for fibromyalgia includes exercise and relaxation in equal measures combined with pacing your activities so as not to overwork your muscles.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a problem with the body’s immune system and will cause swelling and inflammation. The swelling begins in the lining of the joints but then spreads out to the surrounding cartilage and bone. What’s worse is that rheumatoid arthritis will often affect the same joints on both sides of the body at the same time, so both hands, feet, wrists, knees or ankles etc.
Whilst rheumatoid arthritis does affect both sexes it’s more common in women.
Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include anti-inflammatory drugs as well as exercise, heat and cold treatments, conserving energy and in severe cases surgery.
Gout: Many people are unaware gout is even a form of arthritis, let alone a common variety of the disease. It’s caused when the body is unable to get rid of uric acid and so it builds up in the system. The uric acid then forms needle like crystals in joints causing severe pain and swelling.
Common areas affected by gout include the big toes, knees and wrists and it’s much more common in men than women.
Treatments for gout include anti inflammatory drugs as well as special anti-gout medicines. A diet low in something called purines may also be recommended by the doctor. Foods to avoid with high levels of purines include offal, beers, wines and certain fish.
Lower Back Pain: Lower back pain in of itself isn’t a type of arthritis but is commonly associated with the disease. It’s most often caused by an injury to the back or various different types of arthritis and is a very common health problem in the UK.
It can occur in both men and women, at any age depending on its cause.
Treatments for lower back pain include pain relief medicines as well as anti-inflammatories, gentle exercise and heat and cold treatments.
We’ve mentioned several times now that regular exercise can help relieve or even slow down the symptoms of arthritis. However, the last thing anyone with arthritis wants to do is jump up and run a marathon!
So what kind of exercises can you do to help with arthritis without overdoing it and damaging your joints even more?
Where possible these exercises should be done daily.
When planning on exercising try to do it at a time of day you know your joint pain won’t be too bad and go easy on yourself. Start small and build it up day by day.
Whilst a fear of falling isn’t a direct symptom of arthritis many people diagnosed with the disease do report this.
Some factors can be directly attributed to the arthritis such as joints becoming arthritic. When this happens, the muscles controlling them weaken which increases the chance the joint can give way suddenly causing a fall, especially if the arthritic joint is an ankle, knee or hip for instance. Sudden flares of pain in the joint can also make people stumble and fall, especially if the pain is quite severe.
The other side to this is the psychological one. Some people, especially those who have already had a fall caused by their arthritis, can suffer from confidence issues, which as we’ve already mentioned can lead to a vicious circle. After a fall movement may be reduced, long walks might be stopped, which will further weaken the muscle and make future falls more likely.
It’s important to take things easy after a fall and give your body time to heal whilst still maintain an exercise level to help keep the muscles around your joints strong.
If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis then feel free to get in touch to see how some of our innovative products can help you maintain an everyday life at home here>>
Or for more resources or help at home you can check out the Arthritis UK website here>>
As we’ve already mentioned if you suspect you have arthritis or any of the symptoms described in this article apply to you make sure the first thing you do is speak to your Doctor before starting any therapies or treatments.
With thanks to Arthritis UK for all information provided in this article.