What is arthritis?

The word arthritis actually means joint inflammation, but the term has acquired a wider meaning.  In public health, arthritis is used as a shorthand term for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions—a label for the more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround joints and other connective tissue. The pattern, severity, and location of symptoms can vary depending on the specific form of the disease. Typically, rheumatic conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Certain rheumatic conditions can also involve the immune system and various internal organs of the body.

What are the most common types of arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis in the Unites States is osteoarthritis followed by gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among older people.

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that mostly affects cartilage. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over each other. It also helps absorb shock of movement. In osteoarthritis, the top layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows bones under the cartilage to rub together. The rubbing causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. Also, bone spurs may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space, which causes more pain and damage.

People with osteoarthritis often have joint pain and reduced motion. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joints and not internal organs. Rheumatoid arthritis - the second most common form of arthritis - affects other parts of the body besides the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. 

In rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common form of arthritis, the immune system attacks the tissues of the joints, leading to pain, inflammation, and eventually joint damage and malformation. It typically begins at a younger age than osteoarthritis, causes swelling and redness in joints, and may make people feel sick, tired, and uncommonly feverish.

It affects hands, low back, neck, and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, and feet.

What causes osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis often results from years of wear and tear on joints. This wear and tear mostly affects the cartilage, the tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joint. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage begins to fray, wear away, and decay.

Putting too much stress on a joint that has been repeatedly injured may lead to the development of osteoarthritis, too. A person who is overweight is more likely to develop osteoarthritis because of too much stress on the joints. Also, improper joint alignment may lead to the development of osteoarthritis.

Factors that might cause it include:

  • Being overweight
  • Getting older
  • Joint injury
  • Joints that are not properly formed
  • A genetic defect in joint cartilage
  • Stresses on the joints from certain jobs and playing sports.

How can I reduce my chances of developing osteoarthritis?

Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding injury, and engaging in moderate daily physical activity are all ways to decrease your chances of developing osteoarthritis.

What are some common symptoms of osteoarthritis?

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain, swelling, or tenderness; stiffness after getting out of bed; and a crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone. Not everyone with osteoarthritis develops symptoms. In fact, only a third of people with x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis report pain or other symptoms.

How Is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint. It occurs most often in the hands, knees, hips, and spine.

Warning signs of osteoarthritis are:

  • Stiffness in a joint after getting out of bed or sitting for a long time
  • Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints
  • A crunching feeling or the sound of bone rubbing on bone.

No single test can diagnose osteoarthritis. Most doctors use several methods to diagnose the disease and rule out other problems:

  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • X rays
  • Other tests such as blood tests or exams of the fluid in the joints.  

How Is Osteoarthritis Treated?

Doctors often combine treatments to fit a patient's needs, lifestyle, and health. Osteoarthritis treatment has four main goals:

  • Improve joint function
  • Keep a healthy body weight
  • Control pain
  • Achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Osteoarthritis treatment plans can involve:

  • Exercise
  • Weight control
  • Rest and joint care
  • Nondrug pain relief techniques to control pain
  • Medicines
  • Complementary and alternative therapies
  • Surgery.

 

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