Arthritis, a blanket term that refers to joint pain due to inflammation, causes chronic pain in the joints like swelling and stiffness. It is a common misconception that arthritis is wear and tear on the joints and only affects older adults. While it is most common in women and often happens later in life, arthritis can occur in all ages, genders, and races. There are different forms of arthritis, and it is not very well understood. According to the Arthritis Foundation, it is the leading cause of disability in America.
There are several different types of arthritis, including inflammatory arthritis, degenerative arthritis, infectious arthritis, and metabolic arthritis. Arthritis causes the joints to not only swell or stiffen, but it can cause decreased range of motion. Pain ranges from mild to severe and it can become debilitating. Symptoms can come and go and individuals will experience bouts of symptoms called flare-ups and periods without symptoms called remission. Some individuals experience pain that gradually progresses over time, while others have symptoms that fluctuate but don’t worsen. Symptoms of arthritis can become so severe that individuals are unable to complete daily activities, like walking. Permanent joint damage is sometimes a result of arthritis. Arthritis most commonly affects the joints, but in some types of arthritis, not only the joints are affected, but the heart, lungs, and kidneys, and the skin and eyes are also affected.
Individuals may begin to suspect they have arthritis after experiencing a few specific symptoms. Not only will they experience pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints, they may notice fatigue, fever, unexplained weight loss, and/or anemia. Stiffness may occur after periods of inactivity and improves after physical activity. Morning joint stiffness is also a common symptom and usually lasts at least one hour. Range of motion is often reduced as well. Multiple joints can be affected and the pattern of joints affected depends on which type of arthritis an individual has. While joints all over the body can be affected, arthritis most often occurs in the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, shoulders, lower back, hips, and/or knees.
If you’re experiencing this type of joint pain, you should immediately speak with your doctor about your symptoms. They may refer you to a doctor that specializes in arthritis and conditions related to arthritis, like a rheumatologist or orthopedist. They will discuss your symptoms with you and help you decide the best course of treatment. Pain can be managed and there are treatment options for preserving function and mobility.