Arthritis is a condition that impacts as many as 10 million people of all ages across the UK. It is a condition that can be debilitating, with inflammation and pain that can impact any of our joints. Arthritis is an umbrella term that covers more than a hundred different musculoskeletal conditions, and while it impacts many, it is a widely misunderstood condition.
To help you support a loved one with the condition or to cope with your own arthritis, we offer this guide to the basics so you feel more empowered.
What is arthritis?
The word arthritis means inflammation of the joints, which is the meeting point between two points that allows us to move. Because of the swelling, the sufferer experiences pain and restricted movement. While we treat arthritis as one condition, it is a collective name for many different conditions to impact the skeleton. Also, we tend to think of it as an old person’s complaint because of wear and tear. However, people of all ages are impacted, including children.
Two of the most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, though there are several other conditions with similar symptoms. Osteoarthritis impacts 8.5 million people and attacks the cartilage that lines the joints. The consequence of this attack includes stiffness and pain. Once the cartilage thins, the tendons and ligaments work harder, resulting in bone spurs.
Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly begins between 40 and 50, and it is a response to your immune system attacking your joints. There is pain and swelling and the same breakdown of cartilage as with other forms of arthritis. You are more likely to experience flare-ups with rheumatoid arthritis, and you will get skilled at recognising the triggers for these flare-ups. Rheumatoid arthritis is relatively unique as it can affect other body parts, including organs and tissue.
Other conditions such as lupus, gout, fibromyalgia, cervical spondylosis and many more are other conditions that fall under the umbrella term arthritis.
Arthritis is more prevalent in those over the age of 40 and is more common in women than in men. If there is a family history of arthritis, you are also more likely to be impacted.
Another factor that you can control is your weight. Obesity puts you at higher risk of osteoarthritis, as you place more pressure on the joints, particularly the knees. Other lifestyle factors, such as an unhealthy diet and smoking, can also increase your risk.
If you have had an injury or an infection in a joint, then you are more prone to develop the condition. Finally, if you do a lot of manual labour or repetitive tasks, you are more at risk.
The symptoms of arthritis are most commonly experienced as inflammation, pain, stiffness, or tenderness of the impacted joint. You are also likely to feel like your movement is restricted, as fluid can reduce your range of movement and leave you feeling stiff. If your skin is warm and redder over the joint, you are witnessing another common symptom.
There are also secondary impacts that occur due to arthritis. For instance, you may experience muscle weakening and wastage as you compensate for pain by not using parts of the body. You may also experience urinary incontinence, especially if diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
It is important to visit your GP if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. An accurate diagnosis from a trained professional will give you access to specialist treatment that will help control your condition. You may be required to go to the hospital for further investigation.
There are many reasons to chase up the treatment you deserve, not least to avoid the daily pain and inflammation that causes so much discomfort. The impact of this pain will be felt elsewhere in your life, as sleeping will likely be disrupted due to the condition, and turning over in bed when our joints are painful leads to broken sleep.
Arthritis can also stop us from doing the activities we love. For instance, gardening or walking in nature, sports, or camping. Even basic day to day routines can become difficult, and when the condition is serious, it can seriously limit your independence.
Arthritis can be avoided by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight down, exercising and avoiding joint injuries. Most importantly, you can manage the condition if you catch the symptoms early and use available treatment options. There are medications, lifestyle changes, therapy, compresses, exercises, and surgeries, all designed to relieve the discomfort of the condition, and you need to access these early to have the best outcomes for your arthritis.