Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is Arthritis? How Did I Get It and How Is It Treated?

Simply put, arthritis is inflammation of our joints.  The most common form (osteoarthritis) is primarily due to loss of cartilage that lines our joints.  This loss of cartilage comes from several potential sources: 
  1.  Age – as we all age our cartilage tends to weaken and thin.
  2. Family history – if your mother or father had arthritis your risk is increased.
  3. Weight – increased weight increases the forces across a joint and damages the cartilage over time.
  4. Trauma – a previous trauma that either injures the cartilage directly or injures ligaments or a joint’s cushion (like the meniscus in the knee) leads to future arthritis.
Arthritis hurts because it causes inflammation and swelling in a joint that irritates the joint lining.  Furthermore, as the cartilage thins bone becomes exposed and spurs develop that prevent the joint from moving smoothly.

The best method for treating arthritis is to limit its onset by addressing the causes that are under our control.  For example, keeping our weight down will prevent excessive forces across the joint.  The great news is that for each pound a person loses their knee will feel like four pounds have been lost!  So, just a small weight reduction can show a major benefit for your knees. 

As arthritis progresses we can also limit impact activity across the joint.  For example, many patients with early arthritis benefit from transitioning away from running to lower impact activities such as riding a stationary bike or swimming.  These are great activities that keep joints moving and flexible without pounding on the cartilage.

Lastly, there are many additional ways to help with arthritis pain and symptoms beyond changing our lifestyle.  Mild and moderate arthritis often responds nicely to anti-inflammatory medication like Motrin or Naproxen.  As symptoms progress many patients will get months of relief from a joint injection.  Finally, when patients’ note that their day-to-day activities are limited by arthritis despite conservative treatment, many patients benefit from joint replacement procedures.  Joint replacement procedures are amongst the most common and beneficial medical procedures performed in the United States. 

The docs at St. Peters Bone and Joint Surgery want to help limit your arthritis and help you through your symptoms as arthritis affects your daily life.  We look forward to working with you to decrease your pain and improve your function.  

Written by Dane Glueck, MD

*picture courtesy of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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