There are currently 46 million arthritis patients in the U.S. today. This will grow to 67 million by the year 2030!! One in every 3 American adults has either been diagnosed with arthritis or has chronic joint pain and stiffness. As we get older arthritis becomes more prevalent.
So, what is arthritis and how does it affect us?
A healthy joint has cartilage surrounding the ends of the bones.
A joint is where two or more movable bones meet. Each joint is a complex structure made up of ligaments, cartilage, fluid and the synovium. The synovium is the thin layer of tissue that lines the joint and lubricates the tendons.
Cartilage is the spongy material that covers and cushions the bones and acts as a shock absorber for easy joint movement.
Arthritis slowly destroys the cushioning cartilage around a joint. The cartilage begins to break down, causing the bones in the joint to come into contact with one another. This causes inflammation, pain and stiffening as bones rub against one another.
- Rheumatoid Arthritisis an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy joints causing inflammation and damage.
- Hands and feet are most commonly affected, though the wrists, ankles, knees and shoulders may be affected as well.
- More common in women
- Typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50
- Approximately 1-2% of the population is affected by Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Osteoarthritisis a chronic, degenerative form of arthritis where cartilage between the bones in a joint breaks down, causing friction (bone rubbing on bone) and pain. It is the most common form of arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis typically affects more than one joint and is most often in the weight bearing joints such as the hips, knees and lower back. The neck, fingers, thumb joints, feet and the big toe can also be affected. Wrists, elbows, shoulders and ankles are usually affected only in cases of injury or overuseThere are two types
- Primary osteoarthritis is associated with aging or “wear and tear”.
- Secondary osteoarthritis is caused by a specific condition or event that damaged the joint, such as an injury or obesity.
- Ninety percent of people age 40 and over have signs of osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints; the associated symptoms (pain and stiffness) often do not develop until years later.
Over 100 types of arthritis exist, all of which affect the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is also very common. While these two forms have different risk factors, causes, and symptoms, they do share one common symptom – joint pain.
How Osteoarthritis Develops
Osteoarthritis develops gradually and starts with stiffness or soreness and moderate pain that does not interfere with daily tasks.
As it progresses, cartilage loses elasticity and is more easily damaged by repetitive use or injury. Cartilage breakdown causes the ends of the bones near the joint to change and deform – bone may thicken and growths called bone spurs may develop. Small fragments of cartilage or bone may break off and float in the space around the joint leading to pain and irritation. The lining of the joint may become inflamed resulting in further damage.
Damage to cartilage in the joint and the surrounding tissues leads to instability, weakness, pain, and stiffness.
Eventually basic daily activities such as walking, typing, brushing teeth, and tying shoelaces become more difficult.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms may develop suddenly or slowly over time, and include:
- Persistent joint pain
- Inflammation (swelling, redness, warmth, and/or stiffness)
- Joint pain aggravated by activity
- Joint stiffness in the morning or after a period of inactivity
- Loss of flexibility in a joint
- Joint deformity
- Fatigue or weakness
- Poor posture or coordination
Note: Osteoarthritis is most prevalent in people age 60 and older
Causes of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis cannot be attributed to a single/specific cause; however, several risk factors exist that increase the risk of its development:
- Wear and Tear. Repeated overuse or repetitive motions injure and add stress to joints.
- Age. Increased age increases the risk. The joints have endured many years of use. Cartilage may deteriorate due to prolonged “wear and tear.”
- Heredity. Inherited bone abnormalities can affect the shape of joints or cause joint instability.
- Obesity. Obesity increases stress on weight bearing joints. A strong correlation exists between obesity and significant joint pain.
- Injury. A previous serious injury to a joint, nerve injury or surgery, leads to joint pain.
- Muscle Weakness / Lack of Physical Activity. Weak muscles around a joint will increase the wear on the joint itself.
Any one or a combination of these factors may put one at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. Controlling some of these risk factors may minimize risk or prevent the development of the disease altogether.