A Closer Look at Arthritis


If you’re alive, you know someone with arthritis, I guarantee it. Arthritis is so widespread and far reaching that realistically, chances are quite high that  you probably know several people who suffer from it every day. With over 100 types of arthritis, to say that it is of epidemic proportions, is a gross understatement. And you’re absolutely dead wrong if you think that arthritis only affects the elderly. So what exactly is arthritis?

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of one or more of the joints in the body, which results in pain (often experienced as a deep aching), swelling, stiffness, and limited movement ranging from minor, moderate and even major limits in range of motion.


As you can see to the left, when our joints are healthy, they have cartilage to aid in smoothing movement, absorbing shock and overall protecting of the joint. When the cartilage begins to breakdown, it causes the bones to rub together causing inflammation of the joint, pain, swelling, stiffness and the rest of the symptoms that come with it. Everyday  activities  become difficult, painful  and can feel  near impossible, the aching pain  is  a constant, relentless reminder of what you can no longer do, and even sleeping can become difficult, due to time spent in one position too long.

There are a variety of reasons why a person may experience  arthritis. They include:

  • An autoimmune disease (meaning that the body attacks itself because the immune system believes a part of the body  is the problem)
  • A broken bone
  • Overuse and/or general “wear and tear” on the joints
  • An infection (usually caused by bacteria or a virus)

Usually, when a broken bone, injury, infection or disease is to blame, the inflammation will subside when the matter at hand has been dealt with. Meaning, once the broken bone or the injury has healed, the infection or disease has been treated the symptoms of arthritis will fade and become non existent. That’s good news, for those of us who only have to experience the symptoms of arthritis when some kind of trauma occurs to our bodies. Other times however, even when the bone or injury has healed and the infection or disease have been treated, the  inflammation does not go away. In this case, it is referred to as chronic arthritis (which is just the doctor’s way of saying that  you’re stuck with it).

People who experience the discomforts of arthritis on a daily basis who know good and well, it’s never going to go away  can be found by the dozens. It is estimated that almost 37 million people in our country alone have arthritis in one form or another. That’s  about 1 in 7. (When I told you that if you were alive you knew someone with arthritis…I wasn’t kidding!)   Each morning these individuals  wake up with one question in their mind. “How much will I hurt today?” Chronic arthritis is typically categorized into two groups or kinds, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis.   Do you know the difference? Most people don’t.



Osteoarthritis (referred to as OA) is the most common type of arthritis in general. It is more likely to occur as you age. OA is  caused by ‘wear and tear’ on a joint and  is more likely to develop if you abuse your body in one way or another. It could be playing a sport or having a job that uses a repetitive motion of some kind. Be careful  not to overwork a damaged or sore joint and  avoid excessive repetitive motions as much as possible. We already talked about cartilage’s job in protecting the joint. But what is cartilage? It is the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions your bones at the joints, and allows them to glide over one another creating a smoother movement pattern. Because cartilage can break down and wear away,  the bones end up rubbing together and causing pain, swelling, and stiffness of the affected joint. Bony spurs or extra bone  can also form around the joint which makes the  ligaments and muscles around the bone  become weaker. NO GOOD.

The symptoms of OA usually appear in middle age. Almost everyone of us will have  some symptoms by the time we reach the age of 70, however, these symptoms may be minor. Before age 55, OA occurs equally in men and women, but  after age 55, it is more common in women. Oh goody. It is felt in the joints, and while it  can be felt in any joint, it is most commonly reported in hips, knees  and fingers.

Symptoms of OA:

  • Pain and stiffness in the joints
  • The pain is often worse after exercise and when placing weight or pressure on the joint.
  • Joints become stiff and harder to move over time.
  • A rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when you move the joint.
  • The phrase “morning stiffness” refers to the pain and stiffness people feel when they first wake up in the morning.
  • Stiffness usually lasts for 30 minutes or less. It is improved by mild activity that “warms up” the joint.
  • During the day, the pain may get worse with activity and feel better when you are resting.

Risk factors for OA  include:

  • Being overweight
  • A previous injury to  the affected joint
  • Use of the affected joint in a repetitive action that puts stress on the joint



Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (referred to as RA) is a long-term disease (usually diagnosed in early childhood to mid teen years) that leads to inflammation of the joints and the surrounding tissues. It is painful like OA and can also affect the body’s organs. The cause of RA is unknown, but doctors  consider it an autoimmune disease. That means that the body’s immune system which normally fights off foreign substances, like viruses,  confuses healthy tissue for foreign substances and  as a result, the body attacks itself. RA can occur at any age and  women are most definitely affected more often than men.

In most cases, RA affects the joints on both sides of the body equally. Wrists, fingers, knees, feet, and ankles are the most  affected. Unfortunately, the course and  severity of the disease can vary considerably. When the RA symptoms start appearing, they are often misdiagnosed as something altogether different because the first symptoms of RA are symptoms of SO many other diseases that it is hard to tell which one you are dealing with.

 Symptoms of RA:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Low grade fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Weakness
  • Eventually, joint pain appears.
  • Morning stiffness, which lasts more than 1 hour.

Other symptoms include:

  • Chest pain when taking a breath (referred to as pleurisy)
  • Joints becoming swollen and deformed
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet
  • Joint destruction may occur within 1 – 2 years after the disease appears.


In the picture above, you can see the difference in what is affected by both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage where Rheumatoid  arthritis, affects the  synovial membrane and causes the inflammation. In short, neither is enjoyable so be good to your body. In either case, mild to moderate exercise actually increases the synovial fluid in joints and helps ease the stiffness and pain that is caused by arthritis. Of course, always ask your doctor before beginning an exercise routine if you suspect you may have arthritis or any other ailment.

Our bodies are amazing and will adapt to so much for us! Keep in mind though that you’re much better off to play nice and avoid any kind of issues in the first place. Arthritis is no exception. If we take good care of our body, our body will take good care of us. Sounds cheesy, I know…but it’s true!

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