Arthritis symptoms, the causes of joint pain and treatments

Elderly woman experiencing knee pain from arthritis

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, which causes inflammation of one or more joints in the body. This common condition can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds, but the two most common forms of arthritis in older people are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is the cumulative effects of daily activities, repetitive movements and mechanical stress on our joints. These cause wear and tear of the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of our bones, which wears down over time.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and damage. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints.

Arthritis symptoms

Each type of arthritis has its own unique characteristics, causes and treatments, but they all cause joint pain. Other arthritis symptoms include stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity, and swelling around the joints. Also associated are a decreased range of motion, redness and warmth around the affected joint, fatigue and weakness.

Causes of joint pain

The most common causes of joint pain in older people are:

Decreased cartilage repair – cartilage is the flexible tissue that covers the ends of bones in joints. This tends to lose its ability to repair itself as we age, which can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.

Changes in joint structure – changes in joint structure alterations in the shape of the bones can occur with age. These changes can affect joint function and increase the risk of arthritis.

Changes in inflammatory processes – chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with ageing and can contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.Genetic predisposition – genetics can also influence the risk of developing arthritis. Certain genetic factors may predispose individuals to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other types of arthritis.

Treatments for arthritis

To reduce the chances of getting arthritis as we age, we should try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, manage chronic health conditions and practise joint-friendly habits

Although there is no cure for arthritis, treatments have improved greatly in recent years. Today, there are several treatments available for arthritis, depending on the type and severity of the condition. 

Medication – over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage pain and inflammation. 

Electronic pain relief – a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine, (TENS) which administers a mild electrical current to the skin, can help to relieve arthritic pain. 

Splints – hand and wrist splints can be used to help to protect and support swollen or weak joints affected by arthritis.

Physical therapy – exercises and physical therapy can help improve joint function and strengthen the muscles around the affected joints.

Hydrotherapy – slow controlled movements undertaken in a warm-water pool can help the aching muscles around the affected joint to relax. The water buoyancy makes these movements easier, thus reducing the strain on the joints.

Lifestyle changes – maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and avoiding activities that put excessive strain on the joints can help manage arthritis symptoms.

Surgery – in cases of severe arthritis where other treatments have failed, surgical options such as joint replacement surgery may be considered to repair or replace damaged joints.

Alternative therapies – some people find relief from arthritis symptoms through alternative therapies such as acupuncture, tai chi or dietary supplements.

For more help and support with managing arthritis, we recommend you visit the Versus Arthritis or the Arthritis Action websites.

About Bright Care

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