Arthritis is a condition characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and decreased range of motion in the joints. Symptoms can be transient or chronic, ranging in intensity from mild to severe. Symptoms may stay the same for long periods of time or get worse as time goes on. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain and make the sufferer incapable of doing day-to-day activities. Arthritis can even cause physical changes in the joints (e.g., knobbiness in finger joints).
Although some types of arthritis can affect other parts of the body aside from the joints, most arthritis affects the joints. The two most common types of arthritis are degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) and inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid).
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a form of degenerative arthritis that causes the breakdown of the cartilage in a joint. The cartilage, the cushioning on the ends of bones where they meet at a joint, wears away thereby causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. In addition, the bones at the joint are rubbing against each other, which causes further difficulty. As time goes on, the arthritic joints can lose strength and cause chronic pain. The risk factors for osteoarthritis include excess weight, family history, old age, and previous injury to the joint or to the ligaments, tendons, and bones in and around the joint. It is interesting to note that, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, damaging a joint increases someone’s chances of developing arthritis seven times.
You can manage your mild to moderate osteoarthritis symptoms by maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough rest, strengthening the muscles around your joints with regular physical activity, using hot and cold therapies, taking pain relievers or OTC medications, and seeing a specialist for help with your specific condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are both forms of inflammatory arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that initially attacks the synovium, or the lining of joints. The synovium lines the inside of the joint that is not already lined by the cartilage.
The job of our immune system is to protect our bodies from infection and disease. The way it tries to get rid of infection and prevent disease is by generating internal inflammation. However, the immune system can sometimes go off kilter by attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation, which can cause joint erosion and could even damage internal organs and other parts of the body like the eyes. Genetics and environmental factors are thought to trigger autoimmune responses. For example, smoking is an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with genes predisposed to it.
With inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is crucial. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage. The use of one or more medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) is often the treatment for this type of arthritis with the ultimate goal being remission of the disease.
Even though arthritis treatments are dependent on the type of arthritis someone has, they all focus on the reduction of arthritis symptoms, which in turn reduce pain and improving the quality of life. However, in the case of severe symptoms, where no other treatments have relieved the pain or improved the person’s quality of life, joint replacement may be necessary.
Acupuncture and Arthritis
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating a variety of medical conditions. The advantage that acupuncture has over pain medications is its lack of serious side effects. There is scientific evidence that shows how acupuncture provides pain relief. One of the ways acupuncture provides pain relief is to stimulate the release of pain-fighting endorphins and enkephalins. In addition, the insertion of an acupuncture needle produces cortisol, which is a hormone that helps control inflammation.