Learn about how different types of arthritis affect joints in different ways, along with how to get relief from arthritis pain.
Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis causes cartilage — the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint — to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.
Uric acid crystals, which form when there's too much uric acid in your blood, can cause gout. Infections or underlying disease, such as psoriasis or lupus, can cause other types of arthritis.
Treatments vary depending on the type of arthritis. The main goals of arthritis treatments are to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the wearing away of the cartilage that caps the bones in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.
The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis, signs and symptoms may include:
The two main types of arthritis — osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis — damage joints in different ways.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis involves wear-and-tear damage to a joint's cartilage — the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones where they form a joint. Cartilage cushions the ends of the bones and allows nearly frictionless joint motion, but enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury or infection.
Osteoarthritis also causes changes in the bones and deterioration of the connective tissues that attach muscle to bone and hold the joint together. If cartilage in a joint is severely damaged, the joint lining may become inflamed and swollen.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. This lining (synovial membrane) becomes inflamed and swollen. The disease process can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.
Risk factors for arthritis include:
Severe arthritis, particularly if it affects your hands or arms, can make it difficult for you to do daily tasks. Arthritis of weight-bearing joints can keep you from walking comfortably or sitting up straight. In some cases, joints may gradually lose their alignment and shape.
During the physical exam, doctors check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. They'll also want to see how well you can move your joints.
The analysis of different types of body fluids can help pinpoint the type of arthritis you may have. Fluids commonly analyzed include blood, urine and joint fluid. To obtain a sample of joint fluid, doctors cleanse and numb the area before inserting a needle in the joint space to withdraw some fluid.
These types of tests can detect problems within the joint that may be causing your symptoms. Examples include:
Arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function. You may need to try several different treatments, or combinations of treatments, before you determine what works best for you.
The medications used to treat arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis. Commonly used arthritis medications include:
Physical therapy can be helpful for some types of arthritis. Exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding joints. In some cases, splints or braces may be warranted.
If conservative measures don't help, doctors may suggest surgery, such as:
In many cases, arthritis symptoms can be reduced with the following measures:
Many people use alternative remedies for arthritis, but there is little reliable evidence to support the use of many of these products. The most promising alternative remedies for arthritis include:
While you might first discuss your symptoms with your family doctor, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of joint problems (rheumatologist) for further evaluation.
Before your appointment, make a list that includes:
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions: