Arthritis is a common cause of chronic pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 54.4 million adults in the United States are affected by arthritis. Prevalence is highest among women, those between 45 and 64 years old, those with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity, and those with a disability. There are several types of arthritis, the two most common of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form, affecting over 30 million adults in the United States. It generally occurs as a result of “wear and tear” to a joint, leading to breakdown of cartilage within a joint and gradual change to the underlying bone. It is often referred to as “degenerative arthritis.” Symptoms are commonly pain, swelling and stiffness, most frequently in the hands, hips, knees and spine. Factors placing an individual at risk for OA are joint injury or overuse, older age, female gender, obesity, genetics and race. Treatment of symptoms should be directed by your doctor and may include physical activity, physical therapy to strengthen muscles around joints, weight loss to reduce stress on the joint, diet changes, medications, acupuncture, manipulation, supportive devices such as a brace or cane, and surgery. The physical activity generally recommended is 150 minutes over the course of a week of moderate exercise using “joint-friendly” activity, such as walking, swimming or biking, all of which can reduce pain, and improve function and quality of life. Modifying one’s diet to avoid inflammatory foods, such as saturated fats, sugar and alcohol, and include more anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, fresh fruit and green leafy vegetables, is suggested by the Arthritis Foundation to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells within the lining of the joint, causing inflammation and damage to the joint tissue. This may result in swelling, stiffness, pain and deformity of joints. The most commonly affected joints are hands, wrists and knees, often all at the same time, but RA can also compromise organ tissue of the lungs, heart and eyes. While some of the treatments may be like that of OA, there are differences ,and it is important to seek the care of a doctor who specializes in arthritis, a rheumatologist, to diagnose and treat this form of arthritis.

Chronic pain can impact your life in significant ways, including your mood, activities, work, hobbies and relationships. Reaching out to your health-care provider to get an accurate diagnosis and guidance on what you and medicine can do to reduce your pain and its effect on you and your loved ones, is critical to improving your quality of life.

This week’s Health Talk was written by Arabella Bull-Stewart, D.O., Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Rutland Regional Medical Center.

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