As we age, we start to notice aches and pains we didn’t have when we were younger. Creaking knees, pain or swelling in your fingers or toes, wrists, elbows, hips, or shoulders, or stiffness after getting out of bed. You may think that pain is just a normal part of aging, but it’s not, and you don’t have to live with it.
What Exactly is Arthritis?
Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints, but it also affects the surrounding and connective tissues. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, psoriatic, fibromyalgia, and gout. Different types of pain can signify different types of arthritis.
Arthritis is usually categorized by either inflammatory, or noninflammatory.
If you wake up stiff in the morning and it lasts for more than an hour, or all day, you may have an inflammatory form of arthritis. But if pain and stiffness go away within 30 minutes of getting up, or exercise makes your pain and stiffness worse, it’s more likely the noninflammatory type, Osteoarthritis.
Here are the most common forms of arthritis and how to determine if they are what’s causing your pain.
- Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease caused by the breakdown of cartilage; the cushiony material between your bones and joints. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is sometimes called the “wear and tear” arthritis because doing the same kind of exercise for years, like an athlete, will cause the cartilage to break down and joints to rub against the bone, causing pain and reduced range of motion.
Injury may also result in OA. Joint pain is most common in your weight bearing joints including hips, lower back, knees, hands and feet. Swelling and inflammation is not usually a factor for OA, which is why it’s called noninflammatory. It’s also the most common form of arthritis, effecting over 27 million people in the US, more often in women than men and it’s progressive, as it gets worse over time.
Generally, pain and stiffness occur when you first get out of bed in the morning, or standing up after prolonged sitting, but it usually wears off in under 30 minutes.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where your body attacks lining of the joints, causing inflammation; redness, swelling, warmth in the affected area. It usually affects the hands, feet, knees, shoulders, and elbows.
RA is called a systemic disease as it can affect whole systems like cardiovascular or respiratory as it progresses.
If you wake up with pain in these areas and it lasts longer than an hour, it may be a sign of RA. Also, you will usually have the symptoms on both sides of your body, like pain in both hands or knees. Fatigue and loss of appetite are common complaints for people with RA.
Although no known causes, you’re higher at risk if a family member has the disease or you are a smoker. Estrogen may also play a factor which is why more women get RA than men. Over time, the inflammation caused by RA can permanently damage the joints.
RA affects about 1% of the population, compared to 13% of women alone who develop OA.
- Psoriatic Arthritis (PA) is also an inflammatory autoimmune disease, but it affects the connective tissue near the tendons; the flexible collagen tissue which attaches muscle to bone, and ligaments which hold together joints, bones, and organs, where the two meet bone which is called enthesis. PA is more common with those already affected with the skin condition psoriasis. Between 18 and 42% of people with psoriasis will develop PA.
Redness, swelling and stiffness are most common in the knees, ankles, neck or back, and some may experience sausage-like swelling in the fingers or toes. Left untreated, PA can be debilitating.
- Gout is caused from your body producing too much uric acid and usually affects the big toe. Certain foods can make it worse like bacon, veal, liver, alcohol, and some fish like anchovies, herring, and sardines.
Needle-like crystals form in the joints causing acute pain, redness, and swelling. Gout may develop over time and become chronic or with sudden attack triggered by alcohol or stress that may or may not recur.
Cutting out purine-high foods, such as those mentioned above, will help and eating more fruits and vegetables may control uric acid levels. Men are more affected with Gout than women.
- Inflammatory Osteoarthritis WHAT? Sound like an oxymoron? This inflammatory type of OA effects nearly 10% of the population, and mostly Caucasian women, between 40-50 years of age, with pain or swelling in the upper two joints of the fingers, nearest to your nails. It happens from overusing the hands and fingers. Inflammatory OA, or Erosive Osteoarthritis of the hands causes swelling and pain like RA, but it’s not an autoimmune disease. Having a blood test will rule out RA. You can also have other types of arthritis with inflammatory OA.
- Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that effects the muscles and joints all over your body causing fatigue, widespread pain, trouble sleeping, and can lead to depression. It affects 10 million people in the United States and 75% to 90% cases are women between 40 and 75. High risk factors include obesity and autoimmune diseases like RA and Lupus. Pain can be occasional or constant.
- Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain in the joints, and may affect the kidneys, blood, cause chronic fatigue and hair loss. You may have swelling or butterfly-shaped skin rashes, accompanied with fatigue and a fever and possible hair loss.
How do I know if I have Arthritis or other Joint Disease?
Only your doctor can determine if and what type of arthritis you have, however there are several factors that may signify arthritis: Pain, swelling, stiffness, tenderness, creaking or crackling (in knees), bone spurs, and decreased range of motion.
Keep track of your symptoms, when they occur and for how long, where in your body you’re experiencing them, and if anything helps alleviate them such as exercising, OTC pain reliever, or supplements.
Your physician may take blood tests to determine if you have RA or other autoimmune disease, and either x-rays or an MRI along with a thorough examination.
The more information you can provide will help with your diagnosis and proper treatment.
Lifestyle Changes and Natural Remedies
For mild or moderate symptoms of arthritis, lifestyle changes and vitamin supplements may be all you need.
- Exercise is important to keep your muscles and joints healthy and improve range of motion. If you have OA from years of doing sports, you may need to change the type of exercise you do so that you don’t make the pain worse. Swimming and water-aerobics or other low-impact forms of exercise may work best.
Try and get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. If you cannot do 30 minutes a day, three intervals of 10 minutes a day work just as well.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity can cause stress on the joints making pain and swelling worse. Losing weight can alleviate joint pain, especially in the knees, feet, and hips.
- Vitamins and mineral deficiencies make may arthritis symptoms worse. Women especially should get enough calcium for their bones and taking a calcium supplement with vitamin D may help.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and good for your immune system. It may also help manage pain.
- Herbal supplements – Collagen is the protein that holds your body together, giving you flexibility and elasticity. As we age, our body loses collagen which not only can result in wrinkles, but also loss of joint cartilage resulting in OA. Taking a collagen powder supplement can protect and help rebuild collagen.
Fish oil – Our body needs Omega 3s which are healthy fats. If you are not consuming enough fatty fish like Salmon, taking an omega 3 supplement is beneficial and may even reduce pain of RA or other types of arthritis.
- Diet – Eating a healthy diet including anti-inflammatory foods such as nuts, berries, broccoli, fatty fish like salmon, and avocados, keeps your joints healthy, and changing your diet can dramatically improve your symptoms.
Clean protein like grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish provide necessary amino acids to protect the collagen along with healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants like berries, melons, papaya, and pineapple, and leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
- Getting enough sleep each night as poor sleep quality can make your symptoms worse
- Meditation or Yoga which both relax and calm the mind can make a huge difference in reducing pain and improving mood or depression.
Your physician will determine the best treatment plan for you and your type of arthritis. They may recommend medications like NSAIDs or pain relievers.
There are drug therapies which include topical creams and gels, injections, or oral medications.
Some arthritis medications protect your joints and prevent further damage, so early diagnosis and treatment is important.
Your physician may suggest surgery for serious joint damage that involves loss of function or complete debilitation. Most common surgical options are arthroscopic which repairs the joint or joint replacement.
Talk to your doctor about all your options for managing your symptoms.
Tying it all Together
Although there is no cure, you can manage arthritis and other autoimmune joint diseases with proper diagnosis and treatment, and lifestyle changes including staying active.
Don’t let joint pain control your life. Speak with your doctor and start living again.