Chances are you know someone with arthritis. Maybe your grandmother or uncle has mentioned their stiff joints, or perhaps one of your friends. That’s because nearly one in five people have arthritis, making it the most common cause of disability in the United States. Arthritis is not just for senior citizens. Children also can be affected by some forms of the disease.
Arthritis usually causes pain or swelling in the joints that can make your body feel stiff or make it difficult to move around. There are two main types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common type of arthritis, affects 27 million Americans, most of whom are over age 45. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect people of all ages, especially women. OA is a degenerative disease related to an injury or aging that occurs when tissue in the joints becomes worn down. RA happens when the body’s immune system attacks tissues instead of protecting them from infection. RA usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body, causing pain, swelling, discomfort and fatigue.
Arthritis cannot be cured, but there are ways to manage pain associated with the condition. Some common treatment choices include:
- Reducing stress Practicing relaxation techniques and positive self-talk can distract you from arthritis pain and help you focus on what you can accomplish, not limitations caused by the disease.
- Exercising regularly A carefully balanced program can actually help lubricate joints with mild to moderate exercise and even strengthen muscles around the joints.
- Eating a healthy diet A balanced diet can help keep your body weight normal and contribute to overall health and management of the disease.
- Learning how to protect your joints Wear the right shoes to protect your feet and use a cane or walker to lessen pain when walking. Gadgets are available to help open jars or turn door knobs in your house.
- Taking medications prescribed by your doctor Acetaminophen or some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to ease arthritis pain. If you have RA, your doctor may suggest anti-rheumatic drugs to slow damage from the disease, prednisone to reduce swelling, or biologic response modifiers to block damage caused by the immune system.
Topical pain killers may help relieve mild OA discomfort. Examples of non-prescription medications include aspirin-like pain rubs, hot/cold applications, and chili pepper creams. Pain gels and patches may be prescribed to relieve pain in the hands, wrists, elbows, feet, ankles or knees. Check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs because products that contain salicylates may not be safe if you are allergic to aspirin or are taking blood thinners. Severe OA or pain that does not improve with other medications may require a steroid injection into the affected joint. When even strong medications or injections are ineffective, you may be a candidate for joint replacement surgery.
Arthritis pain should not be endured as part of the aging process. Talk with your doctor about developing a pain management program designed to prevent further joint damage and maximize your quality of life.
For more information about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation Web site at www.arthritis.org