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“It’s my arthritis. It makes me hurt all over!”
Remember hearing your grandparents, or someone of that generation complains about arthritis aches? They may have said, “this is what happens when you get older,” or “getting old is not for sissies!”
Most people are unaware that there are several different types of arthritis. Each type of arthritis has different symptoms and various treatments which help reduce pain and swelling.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, with certain ones diagnosed more often due to lifestyle choices. In this article, I’ll review 5 of the most common types of arthritis and how to manage each one.
1) Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) heavily involves the immune system, which focuses its efforts on attacking the joints.
The immune system is meant to attack foreign objects in the body as a protective measure. When the immune system attacks the joints, the most prominent and harmful result is significant swelling. Swelling occurs predominant in the joints, but may travel elsewhere. This can cause skin nodules, lung scarring, inflamed arteries, and anemia.
RA often occurs in one or two small joints in the finger, toe, or wrist. RA is often on both sides of the body, which sets it apart from other types of arthritis. Due to the immune system involvement, individuals with RA often experience fatigue, muscle weakness, appetite changes, and a low-grade fever.
Managing rheumatoid arthritis
The focus of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is the prevention of organ and joint damage.
Treatment for RA is primarily conducted using medication to decrease swelling. In the early stages, doctors may use RA medications such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). In later stages, corticosteroids and anti-rheumatic drugs may be used to slow the immune system and ease symptoms of RA. Furthermore, joint replacement recommendations are made for instances of RA where inflammation has severely limited an individual’s ability to move.
Holistically, occupational and physical therapists provide strengthening programs and manage pain by using therapeutic ultrasound, massage, or electrical stimulation.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs when continual and repetitive motions wear down the cartilage in joints.
When there is little or no cartilage in joints, there is no buffer or cushion between bones – this is what someone is referring to when they state one of their joints is bone-on-bone. Direct contact between bones causes pain and stiffness, both of which worsen in the morning. Stiffness can lead to pain and limited joint motion, can be associated with joints clicking or cracking when they move.
The best management strategy for osteoarthritis is exercise.
Exercise can be self-directed through activities such as jogging, walking, swimming, or biking. Physical and occupational therapists assist in developing strengthening programs to increase motion and manage pain. Therapists also provide patient education regarding protecting joints, stretching techniques, and the use of assistive devices to make up for lost motion.
Since one of the contributing causes of osteoarthritis is being overweight, doctors often recommend diet plans to assist with treatment. In fact, it does help to consult with a registered dietitian to develop a diet plan.
Also, doctors can prescribe medications to relieve pain and swelling such as pain relievers, NSAIDs, and corticosteroids. Injections of hyaluronic acid can also be given by a doctor to make up for the loss of cartilage.
It’s important to note you should expect some level of osteoarthritis as you age. However, this does not mean you’ll suffer from the symptoms listed above. Osteoarthritis found on imaging (i.e. x-ray) that’s appropriate for your age is considered normal age changes like getting wrinkles and grey hair.
3) Psoriatic arthritis
When someone hears psoriasis, they often think of cosmetic changes such as dry skin, rashes, and brittle nails.
While cosmetic changes are common for most individuals diagnosed with psoriasis, it’s an autoimmune disease at its core. As a result, they can develop joint issues called psoriatic arthritis. About 30% of people who have psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis, similar to rheumatoid arthritis, causes the immune system to attack the joints. Psoriatic arthritis may cause stiff joints, pain or soreness in tendons and ligaments, limited motion, fatigue, and vision changes. One of the symptoms setting psoriatic arthritis apart from rheumatoid arthritis is significant swelling to entire fingers or toes.
Managing psoriatic arthritis
Medications to assist with the treatment of psoriatic arthritis include anti-rheumatic drugs, prescription-grade topical treatments, and NSAIDs.
An evolving alternative treatment for psoriatic arthritis is light therapy. Light therapy involves a doctor or certified professional using ultraviolet light rays to counteract the external psoriasis symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. The treatment is meant to relieve swelling and reduce the appearance of rashes.
Physical and occupational therapy helps patients strengthen joints and relieve pain, improving their overall functioning.
Most people do not know that fibromyalgia is a type of arthritis. Fibromyalgia affects various parts of the body in a variety of ways, making it hard to classify this diagnosis.
The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are widespread pain, difficulty sleeping, poor memory and focus, migraines, restless legs, changes in sensation to the hands and feet, and gastrointestinal disturbances. The widespread pain associated with fibromyalgia is typically described as aching, soreness, and burning.
Fibromyalgia pain is cyclical by nature and is highly influenced by sleep patterns, stress levels, exercise, weather, and time of day.
While medications assist with certain symptoms of fibromyalgia, alternative treatment methods are recommended to address the bigger picture.
NSAIDs work to relieve symptoms of pain while sedatives or natural supplements assist with improving sleep, which reduces fatigue during the day. With this in mind, more in-depth evaluations that identify and address the cause of fibromyalgia are a better way to treat the condition.
Uncontrolled issues, such as overgrowth of intestinal yeast, gluten intolerance, vitamin deficiencies, and thyroid conditions, may contribute to fibromyalgia. By addressing these underlying issues, fibromyalgia is more effectively treated. Each of these contributing conditions is treated through lifestyle modifications, emphasizing the importance of proper nutrition.
Treatment courses include taking probiotics to strengthen the intestines, supplementing with vitamins to remedy nutritional deficiencies, and controlling hormone levels to balance thyroid function.
Most physical therapists, occupational therapists, and chiropractors can offer beneficial treatment plans to establish a healthy lifestyle and habits to assist with managing fibromyalgia. Other healthcare professionals assist with daily disease management and integrating healthy practices into daily life.
5) Degenerative disc disease
A type of arthritis specific to the spinal discs, degenerative disc disease (DDD), results from the wearing down of cartilage in the spinal column. Mild to moderate signs of DDD is normal, expected as you age, and can be completely pain-free.
Excessive DDD can cause minor to severe pain in the neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, and thighs. Pain may extend through the arms and down to the hands. In extreme cases, degenerative disc disease causes permanent damage to the nerves and may result in numbness and tingling of arms and legs.
Managing degenerative disc disease
Pain management is one of the most common ways to treat this type of arthritis. Back pain impacts other parts of the body and limits function, making it important to get the pain under control.
Exercise is a great way to improve motion of the spine. Medications such as NSAIDs and other over-the-counter pain relievers make the pain more manageable.
Surgery may be indicated for those with severe changes to the spinal bones. Surgery may mean fusing affected spinal bones or replacement. Maintaining a healthy weight relieves pressure on the spinal column, so following a healthy diet is often recommended.
Exercise = best holistic treatment option
Exercise and physical activity are the best ways to treat most joint-related conditions and is encouraged for all populations, regardless of age.
Types of exercise will vary depending on tolerance levels and the severity of your condition. However, any low-impact activity is useful to lubricate joints and smooth the flow of movement. Exercises such as swimming, walking, biking, and yoga assist with improving pain and motion in individuals with arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight lowers the amount of pressure placed on your joints, which decreases the amount of swelling present in any type of arthritis.
Healthy lifestyle choices such as regular sleep patterns and balanced diets will complement an exercise routine and assist with managing all types of arthritis.While arthritis is a chronic condition for which there is no cure, there are ways to improve your health and lifestyle choices to relieve pain. Once you implement lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and medications, it is possible to achieve improved quality-of-life while living with any type of arthritis.
- Arthritis Foundation. (2018). Degenerative disc disease. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/degenerative-disc-disease/
- Arthritis Foundation. (2018). Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/fibromyalgia/symptoms.php
- Arthritis Foundation. (2017). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/
- Arthritis Foundation. (2017). Psoriatic arthritis. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/psoriatic-arthritis/symptoms.php
- Arthritis Foundation. (2017). Rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php