What is Arthritis?

First, let’s talk about joints.

Arthritis is a condition that affects joints. So, what is a joint anyway? In the body, a joint is the point where two bones meet. A special tissue called cartilage lines the ends of the bones at the joint.  Because of its special structure, cartilage allows for smooth, painless motion.

When cartilage becomes injured, diseased, or otherwise unable to perform its job, joint motion becomes stiff and painful. The underlying bone becomes dense (sclerotic). And bone spurs form at the joint, partly to stiffen it, and limit painful motion. Fluid from the joint can seep into the bone through defects in the cartilage, forming cysts. This is like rainwater seeping into the road through cracks in the asphalt, forming soft spots and potholes. Arthritis is present when there are some or all of these biological changes in a joint.

Why does arthritis happen?

The two major types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is thought to be a “wear and tear” process; however, this is an oversimplification of the condition. Osteoarthritis likely results from a combination of genetics, activity, a history of trauma, age, and undetermined factors. Rheumatoid arthritis results from an underlying inflammatory condition that usually affects many joints and often has a familial component

What can I do about my arthritis?

Arthritis is a progressive condition, meaning there is no way to reverse the process once it has begun. Currently, there are no proven methods to re-grow cartilage or to biologically restore arthritic joints, though scientists are working hard at solving this problem.  But don’t despair.  There are many effective treatments available.

You should talk to your doctor when arthritis begins to be painful, limiting your desired activities.  Returning you to doing the things you want to do with little, or manageable, pain is the goal of any treatment.  In general, treatment is divided into non-operative and operative options. Non-operative methods include activity modification (finding activities that do not cause pain), medications, braces or shoe-wear changes, therapy, and injections. Surgical options are considered when non-operative treatments fail to provide relief. There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment for arthritis, as each patient has unique goals. Your doctor can help you sort through existing treatments and decide on a plan that is right for you.

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