Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
Most of us are familiar with arthritis, but we don’t necessarily realize it isn’t a single disease as there are over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. We think of arthritis as being something that happens when you are older when in actuality people of all ages, sexes and races suffer from arthritis. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. affecting over 50 million adults and 300,000 children.
Joint symptoms such as swelling, pain, stiffness and a decreased range of motion are the most recognized indicators. Some people experience severe pain, whereas for others, pain is mild or moderate. Sometimes joint changes are visible such as knobby finger joints, although more often this damage can only be seen on an X-ray.
When cartilage — which is the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones — wears away, bone rubs against bone causing pain, swelling and stiffness. This is known as degenerative or osteoarthritis. Over time this can become chronic as the joint loses its strength.
For arthritis in the mild or moderate stage, over-the-counter pain relievers, hot and cold therapies and assistive devices can help. However, once it begins to impact mobility and quality of life, joint replacement may be necessary. The best way to prevent osteoarthritis is by maintaining a healthy weight and staying active.
Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system doesn’t work properly and causes joint erosion. Inflammation can damage internal organs, eyes and other parts of the body. Examples include rheumatoid, psoriatic, ankylosing spondylitis, and gout. For autoimmune and inflammatory types, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is very important.
If you have joint pain, you should talk to your primary care physician to get a diagnosis. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopedist. Treatment often includes rest, occupational or physical therapy, exercise, medications or surgery.
Whatever your condition, it is important to pay attention to your joints. Everyday routines that keep your joints moving such as gentle stretching, balance activities and good posture can help. Avoid high impact activities that involve running, tennis, jumping and repetitive motions.
Protecting your joints is important. Self-care includes avoiding positions that strain your joints, installing grab bars in the bath, and using devices such as canes, walking sticks or walkers.
Be thoughtful about medications. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can reduce occasional pain. However, if pain persists, it is recommended you speak to your physician.
If arthritic pain and inflammation becomes unbearable, surgery may be the best option. Synovectomy is the removal of damaged connective tissue lining a joint cavity. Today knee and hip replacements are routinely done. Shoulder joints and smaller joints in the elbows and fingers can also be replaced.
Whatever your level of arthritic pain, it is important to get it checked out so you are able to maintain the best quality of life possible.
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