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Living with Arthritis

SS-147
Family and Consumer Sciences
Date: 
01/26/2022
Lorrissa L. Dunfee, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Belmont County
Reviewed by Kathy Tutt, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Clark County

Did you know arthritis is the leading cause of disability? Fifty-four million Americans (one in four adults) have some form of arthritis. The word arthritis means joint inflammation. The four most common warning signs are pain, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty moving a joint. Although there are over one hundred types of arthritis, the three most common types are outlined below.

Woman’s hands holding her knee

Figure 1: Osteoarthritis most often occurs in the hands, knees, hips, and lower back. Photo by Adobe Stock.

Man’s hand holding his elbow.
Figure 2: Rheumatoid arthritis can deform joints and cause a loss of movement. Photo by Adobe Stock.
Two hands gripping the ankle of a bare foot.
Figure 3: Gout is an inflammatory arthritis that most often occurs in the big toe. Photo by Freepik.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 30 million U.S. adults. It is sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. Symptoms include pain or aching, stiffness, decreased range of motion or flexibility, and swelling. Osteoarthritis can affect a single joint and most often occurs in the hands, knees, hips, and lower back. As the cartilage that cushions the joint breaks down, uneven surfaces develop causing pain and swelling. Medication and exercise can help relieve discomfort. If the deterioration causes bone to rub against bone, surgery may be needed. Your health care provider or an arthritis specialist can prescribe the best treatment options.

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more disabling types of arthritis and is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It shares many similarities with osteoarthritis, but can occur at any age. The disease is two to three times more common in women than in men, which may be related to hormonal factors. It most often affects the wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, and toes. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the joints to become inflamed, stiff, and painful to move. If not treated, joints can become deformed and lose their range of motion.

Gout arthritis is a common form of inflammatory arthritis and is very painful. It occurs three times more often in men. Gout is caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals within the joint and causes intense pain, swelling, warmth, and redness. It usually occurs in one joint at a time and is most often found in the big toe. Gout flares start suddenly and can last days or weeks. It can be treated with medication and diet. Contact your healthcare provider or medical specialist for the most current gout treatment options.

Are There Treatments for Arthritis?

Arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function and several treatments are available. Always discuss treatments thoroughly with your healthcare provider or medical specialist to find the best solution. Potential treatments include:

  • medications such as painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, counterirritants, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologic response modifiers, and corticosteroids
  • physical therapy
  • joint repair, joint replacement, or joint fusion surgery

How Can You Cope?

  1. straighten and align the arthritic joint with braces or orthotics
  2. lose weight to relieve the stress on the joint if overweight or obese
  3. exercise to strengthen muscles and support and protect joints
  4. learn how to modify triggers of pain and stress using cognitive behavioral therapy
  5. add gentle stretching and relaxation techniques to daily routine (check with a doctor before beginning any exercise program)
  6. learn life skills at self-management education workshops to reduce or manage arthritis pain and improve quality of life
  7. pace yourself, rest, understand your limitations, and limit work on projects to small segments of time
  8. do not remain stationary for long periods of time
  9. use warm and cold treatments such as ice packs or heating pads as recommended
  10. try a muscle ointment to reduce morning stiffness
  11. learn about current information regarding arthritis and treatments at your library, hospital, and outreach programs
  12. be realistic and optimistic
  13. learn effective ways to manage pain by recording activities that cause excessive discomfort
  14. use assistive devices to help protect your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks
  15. eat healthy and follow an anti-inflammatory diet

Living with arthritis can be frustrating and difficult. If you are willing to explore your options, taking control of arthritis is possible. It is essential that you play a role in the management of your condition. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions about arthritis and how to treat it.

References

Arthritis Foundation. n.d. “About Arthritis.” Health & Wellness. Accessed January 19, 2022.
arthritis.org/health-wellness/detail?content=aboutarthritis.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “Arthritis Related Statistics.” Arthritis Data and Statistics. Last reviewed October 12, 2021.
cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm.

Health in Aging. 2020. “Basic Facts.” Arthritis. Last updated August 2020.
healthinaging.org/a-z-topic/arthritis/basic-facts.

Mayo Clinic. 2021. “Diagnosis &Treatment.” Patient Care & Health Information, Diseases & Conditions, Arthritis. September 15, 2021.
mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350777.

National Library of Medicine. 2020. “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Genetics, Genetic Conditions. Updated August 18, 2020.
ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/rheumatoid-arthritis#statistics.

Originally posted Jan 26, 2022.
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