Arthritis and Joint Pain

Understanding Arthritis and Joint Pain

Arthritis is a common condition that affects approximately 3.6 million Australians, causing joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Understanding what arthritis is, along with its symptoms, causes, and treatment options, enables individuals to effectively navigate their arthritis journey and make informed decisions. Learn more about arthritis and joint pain below.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis, a term derived from the Greek words “arthro” (joint) and “itis” (inflammation), is a broad medical term used to describe joint pain or joint disease. It refers to the inflammation and swelling of the joints, which can cause discomfort, pain, and limited movement. Arthritis can affect one joint or multiple joints and is a common condition that affects people of all ages, sexes, and races.

Symptoms of Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. However, common signs include:

  • Joint pain: Persistent pain in one or more joints, often worsened by movement.
  • Swelling: Inflammation and swelling around the affected joint.
  • Stiffness: Joint stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Decreased range of motion: Difficulty moving the joint fully.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired due to the body’s response to inflammation.

Types of Arthritis

There are numerous types of arthritis, each affecting joints differently. Some types include:

Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is often called “wear and tear” arthritis. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of joint bones deteriorates over time. As the cartilage wears down, bones rub against each other, causing pain, swelling, and decreased joint motion. Osteoarthritis commonly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine and usually develops gradually over many years.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium – the lining of the membranes that surround the joints. This leads to inflammation in the affected joints, causing pain, swelling, and joint deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect organs in the body. It often occurs symmetrically; if one joint is affected, the same joint on the opposite side of the body is also affected.

Psoriatic arthritis affects some individuals with psoriasis – a skin condition that causes red, scaly patches on the skin. Psoriatic arthritis can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, and it can affect any joint in the body. Sometimes, psoriatic arthritis can cause nail changes, such as pitting or separation from the nail bed.

Ankylosing spondylitis primarily affects the spine, causing the vertebrae to fuse together over time. This fusion can lead to a rigid spine and limited mobility. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause pain and stiffness in the shoulders, hips, and other joints.

Juvenile arthritis refers to any form of arthritis or arthritis-related condition that develops in children or teenagers under the age of 18. There are several types of juvenile arthritis, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, juvenile dermatomyositis, and juvenile lupus, each with different symptoms and complications.

Risk Factors and Causes

Several factors can increase the risk of developing arthritis:

  • Age: The risk of developing many types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, increases with age. Wear and tear on joints over the years can lead to the breakdown of cartilage and the development of arthritis.
  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing certain types of arthritis. If there is a family history of arthritis, the risk of developing the condition might be higher.
  • Biological sex: Females are more at risk for some forms of arthritis, whereas males are more at risk for others.
  • Injuries: Joint injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, can increase the risk of developing arthritis in the affected joint. Even injuries that occurred many years ago can predispose a joint to arthritis later in life.
  • Lifestyle factors: Obesity can put extra stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can weaken the muscles around joints, leading to instability and an increased risk of arthritis.
  • Hormonal changes: Oestrogen can impact inflammation. Hormonal changes, especially during menopause, might contribute to the development or worsening of certain types of arthritis in women.
  • Occupational hazards: Certain occupations that involve repetitive joint movements, heavy lifting, or exposure to joint-damaging environments can increase the risk of arthritis.

Diagnosing Arthritis

An orthopaedic specialist, rheumatologist, or general practitioner will diagnose arthritis by first conducting a physical exam and reviewing your medical history. Then, they will perform relevant laboratory tests and imaging (which may include X-rays, MRIs, CTs, and ultrasounds).

Treatment Options

There are many conservative and surgical treatment options for patients with arthritis. The best choice will depend on a person’s condition, lifestyle, and goals.

  • Pain relief medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can alleviate pain and inflammation. These medications are readily available and effectively manage mild to moderate arthritis symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy involves tailored exercises designed to improve joint flexibility, strength, range of motion, mobility, and overall function.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Weight management and regular exercise can reduce joint stress.
  • Assistive devices: Canes, braces, or splints can support affected joints and improve mobility.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation.
  • Arthroscopy: Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure involving small incisions and specialised instruments. It allows orthopaedic surgeons to visualise, diagnose, and treat joint problems. Here, the joint can be repaired.
  • Joint fusion: Joint fusion, or arthrodesis, involves fusing two bones together to immobilise a joint. This procedure is typically considered for smaller joints such as wrists and ankles.
  • Joint replacement: In severe cases where joint damage is extensive, joint replacement surgery offers significant pain relief and improved mobility. Damaged joints, often knees or hips, are replaced with artificial implants made of metal, plastic, or ceramic.
  • Osteotomy: Osteotomy is a surgical realignment of bones to shift weight away from damaged areas. This procedure is commonly used for knee arthritis.

Dr Yas Edirisinghe provides high-quality arthritis treatment with advanced patient specific designed surgical solutions. He collaborates with patients to develop the most appropriate and beneficial treatment plans, leading to optimal results. 

Advanced, patient-centred technology for better outcomes.

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