Arthritis & Osteoarthritis FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions on Arthritis
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis describes more than 100 conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint. Experts have developed public health definitions of arthritis that include arthritis or related rheumatologic conditions. Most types of arthritis cause pain and stiffness in and around the affected joint or joints. Some types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, also affect the immune system and some internal organs of the body
What are the most common types of arthritis?
The most common form of arthritis in the United States is osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis include gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis
What causes arthritis?
Experts don’t know the cause of many forms of arthritis. Gout (caused by elevated uric acid levels) and specific infections are exceptions.
Scientists are studying the role of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment in various types of arthritis to learn more about arthritis risk factors and possible causes.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. Pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints are common symptoms for most types of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually over time. Symptoms may come and go, or persist over time.
Am I at risk for arthritis?
Certain factors make it more likely that you will develop arthritis. Some of these risk factors can be changed while others are not.
Are people with arthritis more likely to develop complications from the flu?
People with some forms of inflammatory arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, have weakened immune systems, which can make them more likely to develop complications from the flu. Some medications used to treat inflammatory arthritis can also weaken the immune system.
Most people who get the flu do not need medical treatment and recover in less than two weeks. However people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to flu-related complications, such as sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
How many adults in the United States have arthritis?
Arthritis affects 54.4 million US adults, about 1 in 4. As our nation’s population ages, the prevalence is expected to increase.
Can children get arthritis?
Yes, children can get arthritis. The most common type of arthritis found in children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as childhood arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Like other types of arthritis, JIA can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints. Other symptoms may include fever, fatigue, rash, and loss of appetite. The disease damages joints, which can make it difficult to do everyday things such as walking, dressing, and playing. Damage caused by JIA is permanent, so early diagnosis and proper treatment are important to prevent or minimize permanent damage. Some children with JIA achieve permanent remission, which means the disease is no longer active.
Can I prevent arthritis?
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing some types of arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight decreases your risk of developing osteoarthritis and gout. Protecting your joints from injuries or overuse can reduce your risk of osteoarthritis.
Treating and Managing Arthritis
What should I do if I think I have arthritis?
Visit your nearest OrthoNOW Center for an evaluation. Clinician will usually diagnose pain by using the patient’s medical history, physical examination and X-rays. It is possible to have more than one form of arthritis at the same time. There are many forms of arthritis and diagnosing the specific type you have can help your doctor determine the best treatment. The earlier you understand your arthritis, the earlier you can start managing your disease, reducing pain, and making healthy lifestyle changes.
The focus of arthritis treatment is to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain physical function and quality of life. In inflammatory types of arthritis, it is also important to control inflammation. According to the American College of Rheumatology, arthritis treatment can include medications, nondrug therapies such physical therapy or patient education, and sometimes surgery. Managing your arthritis symptoms is very important as well.
How can I manage my arthritis?
Properly managing your arthritis can help to decrease pain, improve function, stay productive, and lower health care costs. Self-management is what you do day-to-day to manage your condition and stay healthy. Practice proven self-management strategies to reduce arthritis pain so you can pursue the activities that are important to you.
Is exercise good for people who have arthritis?
Research shows that arthritis-friendly physical activity is good for people with arthritis. Moderate physical activity 5 or more days a week can help to relieve arthritis pain and stiffness and give you more energy. Regular physical activity can also lift your mood and make you feel more positive.
What should I do if I have pain when I exercise?
It’s normal to have pain, stiffness, and swelling after starting a new physical activity program. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level, but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief. Here are some tips to help you manage pain during and after exercise
- Until your pain improves, modify your physical activity program by exercising less frequently (days per week) or for shorter periods of time (amount of time each session) or with less intensity.
- Try a different type of exercise to reduce pressure on the joints—for example, switch from walking to water aerobics.
- Do proper warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise.
- Exercise at a comfortable pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
- Make sure you have good fitting, comfortable shoes.
See your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Pain that is sharp, stabbing, and constant.
- Pain that causes you to limp.
- Pain that lasts more than 2 hours after exercise or gets worse at night.
- Pain or swelling that does not get better with rest, medication, or hot or cold packs.
- Large increases in swelling or if your joints feel “hot” or are red.
How does being overweight affect arthritis?
It’s important for people with arthritis to maintain a healthy weight. For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. In fact, losing as little as 10 to 12 pounds can reduce pain and improve function for people with arthritis.
At any age, low-impact, arthritis-friendly physical activity and diet changes can help you lose weight.
Frequently Asked Questions on Osteoarthritis
What is osteoarthritis (OA)?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It is sometimes called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It most frequently occurs in the hands, hips, and knees.
With OA, the cartilage and bones within a joint begin to break down. These changes usually develop slowly and get worse over time. OA can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling, and can result in disability.
What are the signs and symptoms of OA?
- Pain or aching.
- Decreased range of motion.
How many people get OA?
OA affects over 30 million US adults.
What causes OA?
OA is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones.
What are the risk factors for OA?
- Joint injury or overuse (such as knee bending and repetitive stress on a joint).
- Age—The risk of developing OA increases with age.
- Gender—Women are more likely to develop OA than men, especially after age 50.
- Being obese—Extra weight puts more stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.
- Genetics—People who have family members with OA are more likely to develop OA. People who have hand OA are more likely to develop knee OA.
- Race— Some Asian populations have lower risk for OA.
How is OA diagnosed?
OA is diagnosed through a physical examination and review of symptoms, X-rays, and lab tests.
OA should be diagnosed by a doctor, particularly a rheumatologist who specializes in arthritis and other related conditions.
How is OA treated?
Doctors usually treat OA with a combination of therapies, which may include the following:
- Physical activity.
- Medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Physical therapy with muscle strengthening exercises.
- Weight loss.
- Supportive devices such as crutches or canes.
- Surgery (if other treatment options have not been effective).
In addition to medical treatment, people with OA can gain confidence in managing their condition with self-management strategies proven to reduce pain and disability, so they can pursue the activities important to them. People with OA can relieve pain and improve function of your joints by learning and using five simple and effective arthritis management strategies.
What are the complications of OA?
Osteoarthritis can cause severe joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. In some cases it also causes reduced function and disability; some people are no longer able to do daily tasks and, in some cases, are not able to work. Severe cases may require joint replacement surgery, particularly for knee or hip OA.
How can someone with OA improve their quality of life?
- Get physically active. Experts recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days. Moderate, low impact activities recommended include walking, swimming, or biking. Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Learn more about physical activity for arthritis.
- Go to effective physical activity programs. For those who worry about making OA worse or are unsure how to exercise safely, participation in physical activity programs can help reduce pain and disability related to arthritis and improve mood and the ability to move. Classes take place at local Ys, parks, and community centers. These classes can help people with OA feel better.
Learn more about CDC-recommended physical activity programs.
- Join a self-management education class, which helps people with arthritis and other chronic conditions—including OA—understand how the arthritis affects their lives and increase their confidence in controlling their symptoms and living well. Learn more about the CDC-recommended self-management education programs.
- Lose weight. For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. Reaching or maintaining a healthy weight can relieve pain, improve function, and slow the progression of OA.
How is rheumatoid arthritis (RA) different from some other forms of arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) differs from some other forms of arthritis because it is symmetrical, affecting both sides of the body.
Other types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, may affect only one side of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis is also characterized as an autoimmune disorder, one in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues, while osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that happens over time.
The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints?
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Though joint stiffness is a symptom of this, it is not the disease itself. Arthritis also causes pain, swelling, redness, and warmth
What is the typical outcome for an individual with osteoarthritis?
Most people with osteoarthritis live active, productive lives despite the disease. They do so by using treatment strategies such as rest and exercise, pain relief medications, education and support programs, learning self-care, and having a “good attitude.”
What is involved in the physical examination of an osteoarthritic joint?
The doctor assesses the mobility of the joint and the condition of the muscles surrounding the joint. He looks for the presence of fluid in the joint and the presence of inflammatory signs.
- Joint mobility reflects joint stiffness.
- Looking for the first “inflammatory” signs (fluid in the joint, peri-articular heat) is essential for the early management of any “flare-up” of osteoarthritis.
Muscle wasting (atrophy) is a consequence of stiffness because less mobility leads to less activity.
Muscular stiffness and atrophy should receive treatment (rehabilitation exercises with or without the assistance of a physiotherapist).
How does osteoarthritis evolve?
The evolution of osteoarthritis is unpredictable.
Osteoarthritis can develop:
- very slowly, over several decades;
- very quickly with complete loss of cartilage in one or two years;
- over a more or less long period, interspersed with “inflammatory flare-ups” or “acute painful episodes” during which the destruction of the cartilage accelerates.
What are the main medicines for osteoarthritis?
Medication for osteoarthritis can include drugs administered orally (by mouth) and others for local use (on the skin or by injection into the joint).
- Oral medications are:
- analgesics that act on pain;
- anti-inflammatory drugs that act on inflammation and pain;
- symptomatic slow-acting drugs whose goal is to reduce the symptoms. The effects appear only after several weeks of administration, but persist for several weeks after stopping the treatment.
- Topical medications are:
- anti-inflammatory ointments applied locally and in the form of a solution injected into the joint;
- lubricants (hyaluronic acid), close to synovial fluid, injected into the knee joint
What is the purpose of rehabilitation for osteoarthritis?
Rehabilitation for osteoarthritis has 3 objectives: maintain mobility of the joint, fight against deformation and strengthen the muscles around the joint.
- Stiffness, disability affecting the quality of life of osteoarthritic patients, is combated by exercises to maintain good joint mobility.
- Deformations are the result of the wrong positions taken to relieve pain (flexion of the knee and / or hip). In the long run, these wrong positions become permanent and, in turn, a disability (discomfort on walking).
- Strengthening the muscles around the joint has a dual action: analgesic and stabilizing.