The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the various forms of arthritis affect more than 54.4 million American adults and that number is expected to rise to 78 million in the next 20 years. Due to its prevalent nature, it’s a topic that touches nearly every household in the country and begs a deeper understanding to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the inflammation and swelling of the joints related to degradation of the cartilage between joints, or irritation to the joint lining and surrounding tissues. When the normally-slippery cartilage cushion between joints wears down, it no longer offers fluid movement so the joints feel stiff, like they are working harder, which they are. In severe arthritis, the bare joints actually rub together causing pain in addition to stiffness. Although arthritis is common as we age, there are other causes of joint pain and stiffness so you should always seek a diagnosis from your doctor through x-rays and other tests.
Types of Arthritis
Within the definition of arthritis it is important to distinguish between two main forms of the ailment. Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis described above, consistent with degeneration of the cartilage between joints. It does not have a cure and cannot be reversed. Osteoarthritis progressively worsens with age and is most commonly seen in the hands, knees, and hips.
In contrast to the mechanical or functional causes of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by inflammation. This inflammation is a response to the body’s blood cells attacking the area, similar to an allergic reaction. Doctor’s do not currently understand what causes this attack in some patients. Overall, the incidence of RA is a small percentage of cases, with osteoarthritis being significantly more common. RA begins with pain, stiffness, and swelling as the lining of the joints become inflamed, and progressively worsens. Over time, the joint and bones can become damaged so it is important to recognize RA and seek treatment as early as possible for better long-term results.
How Arthritis Affects Other Systems
Another important aspect of arthritis is that it has the potential to affect systems within the body besides the joints and surrounding areas. Because those who suffer from arthritis have inflammation in the body, risks of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, vascular disease, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis are all increased, further emphasizing the need for early detection and treatment.
Both types of arthritis can be treated with medications. RA medications aim to reduce inflammation within the body while Osteoarthritis treatment focuses more on pain management. Consistent and safe movement is another prescription for arthritis relief.
How Physical Therapy Can Help
The pain of arthritis stems from joints and bones moving inefficiently due to inflammation and degeneration of the lubricating cushions between them. While some medications can help with the pain and swelling related to arthritis, physical therapy is an added step that can provide relief. Through physical therapy the patient learns what exercises increase fluid movement between the joints while limiting any potentially harmful impact. In addition to increasing mobility in the joints, and subsequently for the patient, physical therapy also strengthens joints impaired by arthritis and helps protect against further damage.
If you are one of many that is being affected by arthritis, call Encore Physical Therapy to see how we can help.