Arthritis, the inflammation of or pain in one or more joints, can affect anyone, regardless of their age or gender. While most people usually think that arthritis is a single disease, it actually is a term referring to joint pain. There are very many types of arthritis, with the most common ones being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some of the common arthritis symptoms are pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints, and a decreased range of motion. These symptoms can either be mild, moderate or severe. They can remain unchanged for many years, or become worse over time. Arthritis, when severe, can result in reduced mobility, chronic pain or even permanent joint damage. While some of this damage is visible, some is only visible on X-ray.
- 1 four main categories of arthritis
- 2 Causes of arthritis
- 3 Risk factors for arthritis
- 4 How to diagnose arthritis
- 5 Treating arthritis
- 6 How to prevent arthritis naturally
- 7 Exercise to Help Prevent Arthritis
four main categories of arthritis
Most of the types of arthritis that are known fall in the degenerative and inflammatory categories.
Degenerative arthritis is characterized by worn out and damaged cartilage. When the cartilage, the smooth lining of joints that helps them move smoothly, starts to wear away, it affects movement. Movement becomes more difficult, leading to stiffness and pain, as the bones rub against each other. Over time, the joints lose strength and pain becomes chronic. The bone underneath may try to repair the damage, but it at times overgrows and alters the shape of the joint.
Osteoarthritis, a common and well-known type of arthritis, is an example of degenerative arthritis. It is most common in people in their late 40s or older, or those with a family history of the disease. It can, however, occur in anyone at any age due to injury.
It is common in joints that are often used, such as knees, hips, the spine, and hands.
Inflammatory Arthritis happens when the body’s defense system starts attacking the joints (autoimmunity). A healthy body system uses inflammation to treat infections. The immune system can however mistakenly attack the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, leading to pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint is first affected. This then spreads across the joint, resulting in more swelling and changing the shape of the joint. The inflammation can also affect the ligaments and tendons surrounding the joint. Researchers believe that genetics and environmental factors combined can trigger autoimmunity.
The most common and well-known type of inflammatory arthritis is Rheumatoid Arthritis. Others include psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing arthritis, and reactive arthritis.
This refers to the infection in a joint. It develops when an infection caused by a virus, fungus or bacteria spreads to a joint or the synovial fluid (the fluid surrounding a joint), triggering inflammation. The infection usually develops in another part of the body then spreads through the bloodstream to the joint. It may also enter the body through open wounds, injections or surgery.
Infectious arthritis occurs in one joint and affects a large joint like the hip, knee or shoulder. It is more common in children, the elderly, and people who use drugs that are illegal.
Some of the risk factors of infectious arthritis include a history of joint surgery, cancer, diabetes, open wounds, drugs that suppress the immune system, smoking, and joint problems such as gout, lupus or arthritis.
Also known as gout or gouty arthritis, metabolic arthritis is caused by the buildup of uric acid in the blood. This can be due to the body’s production of excess uric acid or the inability of the kidneys to remove all the excess uric acid from the body. The excess uric acid crystallizes, with the crystals depositing in the joints. With time, this leads to sudden excruciating pain, redness, and swelling of the affected joint.
Metabolic arthritis commonly affects the big toe. It is common in men who are over 40 years of age and postmenopausal women.
Causes of arthritis
There really is no single cause for arthritis; different types of arthritis are caused by different things. Most forms of arthritis are caused by the combination of several factors. Some of the causes, and the type of arthritis they cause include:
Injury – degenerative arthritis
Abnormal metabolism – gout and pseudo gout
Family history – osteoarthritis
Autoimmunity – rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus
Infection – arthritis of Lyme disease
Risk factors for arthritis
There are risk factors that increase one’s potential of developing arthritis. They include:
- Genetics and family history
- Joint injuries
Genetics and family history
Most forms of arthritis have a stronger tendency and probability to be passed on from one generation to another in one family line through genetics. They include osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
While anyone can get arthritis, statistics show that more women have arthritis as compared to men. Most forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and others, are more common in women while others such as ankylosing spondylitis and gout are more common in men.
The risk associated with many types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout, increases with age. The elderly are more susceptible to arthritis than children.
Obesity, mostly caused by unhealthy eating habits, is associated with arthritis. The excess weight due to obesity puts stress on the joints, especially on the spine, knees, and hips. Obese people are at a higher risk of developing arthritis.
Smoking exposes people to a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Diet plays a tremendous role in the development of gout. A diet high in meat, seafood, and beverages that are sweetened with fruit sugar promote more production of uric acid, which may lead to gout. A diet with high a concentration of sodium salt can lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
People with a previous joint injury have a high chance of developing arthritis.
A person’s occupation may increase their risk of developing arthritis. People whose jobs require repetitive movements have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and other forms of degenerative arthritis as the joint cartilage is slowly worn out.
Signs and symptoms of arthritis
They vary depending on the type of arthritis. There are common ones, however, such as:
- Pain and tenderness in the joints
- Stiffness of the joints
- Warm and red skin over a joint
- Inflammation in and around a joint
- Reduced movement of the joints
How to diagnose arthritis
Arthritis is usually diagnosed by a physician once they have done physical exams and blood tests. Once you report to a hospital with joint pain, the doctor will ask about your symptoms, such as where the pain is, when it started, the level of the pain, and health and lifestyle habits such as smoking. They then have to conduct a physical exam to see if the joint has any swelling, stiffness or redness. The doctor will also check for any fluid in the affected joint.
An imaging test, mostly X-ray, is done to visualize the joint. This is done to check for any structural changes in the joint, any joint erosions, inflammation, any fluid in the joint (location and amount), presence of loose tissue fragments, cartilage loss, and soft tissue tears. Blood tests are done to check for the presence of antibodies and the level of inflammation. If there is fluid in the joint, some of it will be drawn for tests.
Diagnosing arthritis involves eliminating any other conditions that are not arthritis that may have similar symptoms. Once the type of arthritis is diagnosed, the doctor them advises you on the best treatment method to use.
There is no cure for arthritis. There are treatments, however, that can be done to slow down the progression of the disease and its effects.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers – these are useful in reducing the chronic joint pain that is usually as a result of arthritis.
- Prescription pain relievers – in case the OTC pain relievers are not effective, doctors can prescribe stronger ones to help combat the joint pain. While the pain relievers do nothing to treat arthritis, they help reduce the pain that anyone with arthritis feels.
- Hot and cold therapy – applying heat and ice packs to the joints with arthritis help reduce some of the inflammation and pain.
- Braces or splints – these are used on arthritic joints to give them extra strength and support to function properly.
- Exercise – this reduces the stiffness in arthritic joints and increases the strength of the muscles surrounding the affected joint, reducing some of the pressure and stress on it.
- Surgery – this is usually recommended after any other method has failed, especially in severe cases of arthritis where the damaged joint does not respond to any other treatment.
How to prevent arthritis naturally
As no cure for arthritis exists, only treatments to slow down its advancement and reduce some of its effects, it is best to take steps to ensure that you do not develop arthritis in the first place. The best way to approach and treat arthritis is to prevent it from developing in the first place. There are several measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Since nutrition and diet are some of the risk factors for arthritis, taking care of your diet is a great step in reducing your chances of developing arthritis.
- Reduce or eliminate any inflammatory foods in your diet. Inflammatory foods break down your body’s natural gut bacteria, reducing the body’s ability to fight any unwanted bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These foods include wheat, refined sugars, and fried and processed foods. The refined sugar nourishes fungi and bacteria that can harm your body, especially the stomach and intestines.
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. Anti-inflammatory foods help your immune system deal with any inflammation in the body. This will protect the body from types of inflammatory arthritis, and prevent any inflammation of the joints. They include vegetables, lean meats, herbs, fruits, and fish. They also provide your body with essential minerals and vitamins that are vital in boosting the immune system to fight off inflammation.
- Reduce fatty foods in your diet. Foods like fries and other fast foods may lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for arthritis. Obesity leads to stress on the joints, especially the knees and hips, leading to obesity. If you are already overweight or obese, losing weight is the best way to reduce your chances of developing arthritis.
- Increase the fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods, such as pickles, kefir, and kombucha, have a high content of good bacteria, which strengthens your natural gut bacteria. They improve the natural digestion process, allowing you to expel from your body any harmful toxins and free radicals that may lead to inflammation. You should, however, be careful not to consume too much sodium.
- Increase your calcium intake. Calcium is required for the growth of strong bones, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis, which in turn reduces the risk of developing some types of arthritis.
- Spend more time outdoors. This exposes your body to a wide range of bacteria, therefore building its resistance to various bacteria. This strengthened immunity is important in fighting off any bacteria that may cause inflammation.
- Reduce your usage of hand sanitizers and cleansers. While hand sanitizers and cleansers are a quick solution when you want to clean your hands without water, overusing them leaves your body vulnerable. They kill off the protective bacteria from your skin, which is the body’s first line of defense against any foreign matter.
- Protect your joints. Overworking your joints, especially in jobs that require constant and repetitive movement, or during physical exercises, may lead to the joint cartilage being worn out. This will lead to the bones grinding against each other, leading to forms of degenerative arthritis. You should get enough rest and don’t overwork your body too much, especially when it comes to physical movements.
Natural home remedies
There are some natural home remedies you can use to prevent the development of arthritis. They include:
- Using ice packs on an injury or inflammation. Whenever you get an inflammation or a small injury that does not require a visit to the doctor, it is important that you use an icepack on the affected area to reduce the inflammation of injury. Regular application of ice packs on the area reduces the irritation and soreness that would otherwise increase the risk of arthritis.
- Apple cider vinegar. This is a natural anti-inflammatory that is useful in preventing inflammation. Drinking a teaspoon of the vinegar in warm water every day goes a long way in helping reducing inflammation. Garlic is also a good anti-inflammatory food.
- Epsom salt. Epsom salt has several uses in the body. It can help to reduce joint stiffness, inflammation, and pain, and has magnesium that is important for bone mineralization, making it effective in the prevention of arthritis. Add Epsom salt to water and use the solution to soak your sore hands or legs.
- Fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek seeds are an anti-inflammatory food that also contains antioxidants, making them very important in the prevention of arthritis. Soak them overnight in water for the best results. Drain the water in the morning and consume the seeds.
- Honey and cinnamon. This a combination that is used to relax stiff muscles, reducing the chances of arthritis. The combination also has other uses, as honey has antiseptic properties while cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties. For the best results, add a tablespoon of honey to half a teaspoon of cinnamon and take every morning on an empty stomach.
Exercise to Help Prevent Arthritis
- Since arthritis affects the joints, there are some exercises you can do to ensure that your joints are in top condition to prevent the development of arthritis. You should however not overdo it as it may lead to the opposite of the desired effect – the joint cartilage may be work out, leading to bones grinding against each other and joint pain.
- Shoulder stretches. Shoulder stretches lead to flexibility of the shoulder joints and the surrounding muscles, to help prevent shoulder arthritis.
- Making fists. Whenever your hand is inflamed or painful, making a fist is very helpful. Not only does it help to reduce the pain and soreness, but it also ensures that the joints remain flexible. Make then release the fist, making each fist progressively tighter.
- Knees stretches. They encourage flexibility in the knee joints and the surrounding muscle to reduce any pain and stiffness in the knees and reduce the risk of developing arthritis.
- Low-impact aerobic workouts. These exercises promote a healthy blood flow to all parts of the body. They also help with weight loss, promote flexibility and help maintain mobility and motion.
- Gym exercises. Low impact gym exercises such as the stationary bike, the elliptical machine, and treadmills, provide good exercises without overworking the joints.
- Swimming. Swimming does not strain the body too much while working on all the muscles in the body equally. It ensures flexible joints and increases the strength of muscles.
- Walking. This is also another exercise that puts into use most muscles and joints in the body. It makes for a great way to help prevent arthritis since you don’t have to use any equipment or spend anything.
How exercises help prevent arthritis
- Helping in weight loss. Exercises and workouts, when done consistently over time, help reduce weight. This, in turn, reduces the stress on hip and knee joints, reducing the risk of arthritis.
- Supporting healthy cartilage. Joint cartilage needs motion and some stress to stay healthy. Synovial fluid, stored in the cartilage, is excreted whenever the joint is used to deliver nutrients and lubrication. It also reduces inflammation of the joint.
- Reducing pain. Exercise strengthens muscles, which then provide better support and stability to joints. This stability helps prevent bones from dislocating, and protect them from impact and friction, therefore reducing pain. Endorphins released by the body during exercise are the body’s natural painkillers.
- Increasing motion and function. Exercises keep the joints and muscles agile and flexible, increasing their range of motion. This also reduces the chances of stiff muscles, which can lead to arthritis.
- Increasing strength. Exercises increase the strength of muscles, which reduce the amount of stress that would have been placed on joints.