Arthritis is a common condition that affects people of all ages, but it can be particularly disabling for older adults. Occupational therapists work with people who have arthritis to help them remain independent and active.
What is Arthritis?
We’ve all heard the word Arthritis and probably used it ourselves but what condition are we referring to?
Arthritis is an umbrella term that covers several conditions. It is used to describe pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints.
If you think you have arthritis, a visit to the GP should be arranged. They will be able to prescribe medication to ease the pain depending on the type of arthritis you have and refer you to see a Rheumatologist if necessary. Early diagnosis is crucial for long term management of the condition.
According to the NHS website there are 12 main different forms of arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis - osteoarthritis is very common and can affect any joint but generally affects the knees, feet and hands. In a healthy joint, cartilage covers the surface of bones and lets them move freely against each other. If the joint becomes worn or damaged, the tissues try to repair, which can cause extra bone to form at the end of the bones. This can then restrict movement or rub against other tissues. The lining of the joint can thicken, and more fluid may be produced in the joint capsule which can cause the joint to swell. Finally, connective tissues around the joint may stretch which may make the joint lose its shape. Keeping active and maintaining a healthy weight will help to put less pressure on your joints.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) RA is an inflammatory arthritis and is an auto immune condition. This means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues which causes inflammation. If we cut ourselves, inflammation is a good thing as the body sends blood and fluid to fight an infection. However, for RA sufferers, it means that it can make a joint painful and difficult to move. Chemicals in the fluid can damage bones and joints. It can also irritate the nerve ending which causes pain and the fluid can stretch the joint capsule. The inflammation can cause permanent damage to the joint. Symptoms of RA include swollen and tender joints, swelling and stiffness in the joints (that last for more than 30 minutes), severe tiredness and generally feeling unwell.
- Psoriatic arthritis Psoriatic arthritis is an auto immune condition that causes pain and stiffness in and around the joint, with the addition of psoriasis. It usually affects people who already have psoriasis, but arthritis can develop before the psoriasis.
- Gout - Gout is a painful condition that causes the body's joints to become inflamed with too much uric acid. The most common location for this type of arthritis is usually found in your big toe, but it can develop in other parts of the body too. It can cause intense pain alongside redness and swelling around the affected joint.
- Lupus - Lupus is a chronic and often painful auto immune condition that can lead to joint pain, skin rashes or tiredness. There's no cure for lupus but symptoms do improve with early treatment. There are two different types of Lupus, Discoid Lupus and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). The Versus Arthritis website provides some authoritative information on the condition.
- Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) – AS is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the back, causing inflammation to develop in the spine. This can make your rib cage and neck stiff with pain and commonly occurs during late teens or early adulthood. In sever cases the spine can fuse causing a curvature of the spine.
- Cervical Spondylitis – The term cervical spondylitis refers to age related wear and tear of the spinal disks. This is a common type of arthritis that affect mainly over 50-year-olds.
- Fibromyalgia - The disorder fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain that spreads throughout your body. The symptoms can be both physical and mental, including fatigue in addition to sleep problems or mood swings caused from the constant discomfort. Fibromyalgia can be difficult to manage as the condition is unpredictable and the cause of it is still being researched.
- Enteropathic Arthritis – Enteropathic arthritis is linked to inflammatory bowel disease primarily Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. Normally the condition will affect the limbs and the spine. Approx. 20% of Crohn’s and Colitis sufferers will have this condition.
- Reactive Arthritis – this condition affects various joints in the body including the knees, toes, hips and ankles. It appears in the wake of an infection normally of the bowel, genital tract or eyes. Normally the condition will pass upon treatment of the initial infection. Your GP will manage any ongoing arthritis if required.
- Secondary arthritis – often because of a sports injury and RSI.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica – this condition mainly resides around the shoulders, neck and hips. It causes traditional arthritic pain and inflammation in these areas as well as tiredness, loss of appetite and depression. The condition is more likely found in men over the age of 70 and rarely presents in the under 50s.
What causes arthritis?
It is difficult to say what causes arthritis generally, but it could be inherited. Geneticists have discovered markers in the blood which can increase your risk of developing arthritis.
Recently it is also thought that environment can play a large part in the development of arthritis.
How does arthritis affect you day to day?
The pain caused by Arthritis can make it difficult to carry out daily activities like getting in and out of bed, showering, dressing, preparing food, getting in and out of a chair or getting on and off the toilet. However, due to the widespread nature of this condition there are many products and services available that can help overcome the issues presented by arthritis.
Arthritis is a broad term that is used to describe many different types of joint pain and inflammation. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, each with its own unique set of symptoms and treatment options.
If you are experiencing any type of joint pain or inflammation, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse in the long run. There are many treatment options available that can relive the day-to-day pain and make a long term pain free future possible.
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