Arthritis: Causes, types, and treatments
Arthritis: Causes, types, and treatments
Arthritis is a condition which affects the cartilage, bones and joints in the body, resulting in a reduced level of mobility at the affected area and a great amount of pain for the individual, due to stiffness and inflammation. Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, however is most prevalent in elderly patients, due to the ‘wear and tear’ nature of arthritic development.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term which can be used to describe a variety of conditions, based on the issues they result in and how they are caused. However, the two most common are 1) osteoarthritis and 2) rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is usually as a result of overuse and everyday wear and tear, particularly at weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees, and so is commonly prevalent in the elderly population. This condition results in cartilage damage, which connects bone-to-bone, and consequently the bone surfaces at which this cartilage is attached; causing a great deal of pain for the patient when performing movement at these joints as the bones at the joint grind against each other.
Rheumatoid arthritis, is a form of arthritis affects both the middle aged and elderly. Overall, it affects more women than men. It is frequently seen in the little joint structures of the body, such as the hands, wrists, fingers, ankles and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis is as a result of an autoimmune disease. The immune system normally works by attacking bacteria and viruses which are foreign to the body, therefore protecting it. However, in the case of an autoimmune disease, the immune systems reacts to a non-existent stimulus and attacks the healthy body by mistake. This condition causes inflammation of the joints, bursae, tendons and synovial sheaths, all parts of the body that allow fluid movement at the joints.
Symptoms of arthritis?
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both possess similar symptoms, despite their differences. These include inflammation and stiffness in the joints, which cause reduced mobility. Many sufferers have also found the condition to be worse in the morning too, causing a significant amount of pain, which tends to ease up after an hour or so. The differences is rheumatoid arthritis does not just affect the joints, and is often a symmetrical diseases, meaning you will have symptoms on both sides of your body at the same time, while osteoarthritis is less symmetrical.
How does arthritis develop?
Arthritis develops over time, and there is not one specific reason for it occurring. There are however risk factors and genetic markers that can aid one in determining if they are predisposed for the condition and ways in which they can prevent it, or reduce the onset of it.
- Genetics: a family history of the arthritis.
- Previous injury: causing damage to a joint earlier on in life, will most likely result in arthritis later on in life.
- Weight: a greater load than usual places increased stress on the joints supporting the body.
- Age: with age comes an overall reduction in new tissue production and repair of old tissue. However, arthritis does not always affect just the elderly, and so age may not be the determining factor of the condition’s occurrence.
- Overuse: similar to weight bearing, the overuse of the joints such as repetitive bending; can put extra stress on the joints and cause them to wear out faster than normal ‘wear and tear’.
Treatment of arthritis:
The treatment of arthritis can depend on a few factors:
- Level of mobility;
- Form of arthritis they have; and
- The location of it.
The main aim is to find a treatment which will reduce the pain and increase the level of mobility the patient has, sometimes through the use of machines and/or creating individual changes in the patient’s life, or a combination of both.
Treatment will greatly dependent on how severe the level of arthritis is. For those who have a very progressed level of the condition, reduction of pain is of greatest importance. This can be in the form of walking aids or braces around the joints, such as a knee brace, to reduce mobility and therefore pain around the joint. As a last resort, joint replacement surgery may also be required.
At an earlier stage of the condition, there is a greater variety of treatment options. More commonly a combination are utilized to have the best resulting effect.
- Exercise/Physiotherapy: your doctor may refer you to see a Physiotherapist to improve strength, mobility and reduce stiffness in the joints through a gradual progression of exercises. They will often also offer advice on mobility and pain relieving techniques, such as heat packs. Furthermore, exercise can greatly reduce the patient’s suffering if their arthritis is exacerbated by a heavier weight, therefore losing some weight can relieve the stress placed on the joints.
- Mobility Aids: this can include walking aids, wheelchairs, joint braces, orthotics, or even equipment that will aid in everyday life, such as electrically powered equipment, as an alternative to manual labour.
- TENS: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation works to relieve pain for arthritis sufferers by transmitting an electrical current across the skin surface and nerve fibres, ‘blocking’ pain signals to the brain. It also increases the amount of endorphins, which are help to release more natural painkillers into the body.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are usually prescribed a combination of anti-inflammatories and disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARD’s).
- Osteoarthritis: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) are also prescribed for those suffering with osteoarthritis. Additionally, painkillers and supplements such as chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine sulphate may also be taken.