Arthritis affects about 52.5 million adults in the US alone. While arthritis is actually an umbrella term for over 100 different conditions, when someone says they have “arthritis,” they are generally referring to one of the two most common types: osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
To understand how arthritis affects the joints, you must first understand how a joint works. Joints are made up of five parts:
- Bones – A joint is where two or more bones meet.
- Muscles – Soft tissue that surrounds the bone and facilitates movement.
- Ligaments – Fibrous tissue that connects the bones to one another.
- Tendons – Fibrous tissue that connects the muscles to bone.
- Cartilage – Tissue that cushions the space where the two bone touch.
When all of these elements come together correctly, you have a joint that facilitates movement in a comfortable, gliding fashion. When one develops a type of arthritis, the most common complaint is joint pain.
This is the most common type of arthritis, caused by an eventual wearing down of the cartilage that cushions the place where bones meet in a joint. Osteoarthritis usually affects the hips, knees, hands, and spine, though it is possible to develop it in any joint of the body. Maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy weight can drastically decrease your chances of developing this type of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cartilage tissue in your joints. It generally occurs in women over the age of 40, but can also occur in men and at younger ages. RA typically affects the joints in your hands and feet. The lining of the joints becomes damaged which can cause a breakdown of the cartilage and a deterioration of the bone.
While there is no cure for osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, there are several treatment options to be considered. Generally, a doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Therapy is often prescribed to keep the joints as flexible as possible. You might also learn ways to take stress off the affected joints and use joint protection methods to lessen strain.
If medication and physical therapy aren’t enough, surgery is the next viable option. Depending on the joint and the level of damage to it, your doctor may recommend a total joint replacement, joint resurfacing, tendon repair, or joint fusion.
It’s important to speak with your doctor in detail about every available option so you understand what the best choice for you is. At the Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine, we take the time to sit down with you and explain every aspect of your specific situation and the best treatment options to ensure that you can make well-informed decisions about your health.