Sometimes, this is the very first question I am asked –in the exam room, or on the lecture circuit. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, causing redness, swelling, stiffness, warmth and soreness.
There are about 100 different forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease of unknown cause that can cause severe and irreversible joint damage, particularly if treatment is delayed. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and is usually more gradual in onset, more common with aging, and less likely to be associated with severe inflammation. Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a crystal of uric acid. Immune diseases such as lupus may be associated with arthritis. Infections may cause arthritis directly in the joint, or by triggering an immune system response that causes persistent joint inflammation even after the infection has been cleared.
Some symptoms are common to many forms of arthritis. Movement is limited by pain and stiffness. Overlying muscle develops spasm, tightening as if to “protect” the joint from painful movement. Without treatment, arthritis may progress to call structural damage to bone, cartilage, ligament andtendon. Neighboring muscles become shortened, stiffened, weakened and wasted. At this stage, even if inflammation is used, the joint may not function normally. A severely arthritic hip or knee may make walking a problem, while impaired mobility in the shoulder may cause difficulty with feeding and grooming.
The goal of medical treatment is to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and prevent or minimize damage to the joints. Once the pain and inflammation are controlled, selected exercises are prescribed to restore and maintain mobility and functional joints.
Here are some suggested references for more information on this topic:
Alan R. Schenk, M.D. FACP