Aging isn’t always the most glamorous of inevitabilities – skin often sags, wrinkles appear and aches seem to be ever present.
Many people associate those aches with arthritis, which many inaccurately assume to be something that only affects the elderly. But arthritis is more than a common ache or pain for our geriatric friends and family members.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is actually a group of complex musculoskeletal system conditions that affect men and women of all ages and races. In fact, of the 50 million Americans with arthritis, about 300,000 are children.
1. Arthritis and its different forms. At the most basic level, arthritis can be defined as inflammation of one or more joints. There many types of arthritis, but the three main forms are:
• Osteoarthritis. This is the most common form of arthritis. Wear and tear on joint cartilage causes the majority of osteoarthritis cases, but injuries, infections and risk factors like obesity can accelerate the onset of the condition.
• Rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane – the lining of the joint capsule – resulting in inflammation and swelling. Eventually, rheumatoid arthritis may cause extensive joint damage.
• Juvenile arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is an overarching term used to define the many types of arthritis that affect children and teens 16 years old and younger.
2. Symptoms. Although there are many forms of arthritis, most symptoms involve your joints. The common signs of arthritis include:• Pain• Stiffness• Swelling• Redness• Reduced range of motion.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your health care provider to determine if you are suffering from arthritis.
3. Risks and complications. There are certain factors that make you more susceptible to arthritis, including:
• Genes. Your family history can put you at a higher risk for developing arthritis.
• Gender. More women than men tend to develop arthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of individuals with arthritis are women. However, men are more likely to have gout, which is sudden and acute joint pain.
• Age. The older you are, the greater your chance is for developing arthritis.
• History of joint injury. If you injured one or more joints in the past, you are more likely to have arthritis in that joint in the future. These injuries could be related to sports or jobs that require excessive movement or knee bending.
• Excess weight. People who are overweight and obese put more stress on their weight-bearing joints. In effect, this makes them more susceptible to arthritis.
4. Prevention and Management. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent or manage arthritis.
• Lose weight. If you are carrying extra pounds, losing weight can help reduce stress on your joints. Not to mention that obesity is a leading cause of multiple other diseases and conditions.
• Get moving. Physical activity helps to improve joint flexibility, as well as maintain an ideal weight. Water-related activities are good forms of low-impact exercise, keeping pressure off your joints.
• Use supportive devices. Braces, walkers and special seats are just a few examples of joint-friendly ways to assist you in your daily life, especially if you already have arthritis.
• Apply hot and cold packs. Looking for arthritis relief? Hot and cold packs may help relieve arthritis symptoms.
• Prevent falls. Avoid damaging your joints and other body parts from falls by stretching in the morning, checking your vision, reviewing medications with your doctor, and removing slip and fall hazards from your home. Arthritis can be a literal pain in various joints in the body. Learning about the condition and ways to prevent it can help to keep you arthritis free or help you manage it better. Reducing the aches and pains of arthritis can do wonders for your well-being.
(Usha Kalava, M.B.B.S., is an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System. For more information, please go to mayoclinichealthsystem.org. Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.)