I often get people ask me what exactly arthritis. This page will give you some explanation and information on the 2 general types of arthritis and how it can affect you.
This is the most common form of arthritis. It is basically due to wear and tear on our joints as we area active in life. If we live long enough everyone will suffer from some osteoarthritis as it a very natural part of the aging process.
Where 2 bones meet and move against each other they both have cartilage on the joint surfaces to protect the bones from wearing away. Over time this protective cover will itself get worn away leaving the bones exposed to slow wear and tear and this is the cause of OA. This will cause pain and stiffness in the joint.
When the bones start to wear our bodies sometimes try to protect them by growing extra bone about the joint (but it can not regrow the bone lost actually on the joint surface). These bony spurs are often seen on x-rays of arthritic joints.
As a result of the damage being done to the joints the muscles and ligaments around the joint also tend to get weak and this makes the problem worse.
OA tends to run in families. So certain families will get minor or small amounts of pain or stiffness due to it and some will suffer a lot more pain, stiffness and disability at a much earlier age. Being overweight means there is more pressure on the joint and so over time it will suffer more damage and certain jobs and sports that are heavy wearing on the joints will also mean OA symptoms come on earlier and are more severe.
While it is impossible to repair the damage done to the joint by OA a lot can be done to improve the symptoms. Physiotherapy can help to reduce or get rid of the pain and stiffness in the joints and exercises can strengthen the weak muscles around the joint and give it more support. Learning your body’s limits and how far you can go with activity before it makes your joints worse is also an important step, and is different for each person.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune disease where chronic inflammation of the joints can cause damage to the joints very quickly. It can also affect other organs in the body at the same time. An autoimmune disease is when the body wrongly starts to attack its own tissues for unknown reasons. This typically follows a pattern of flare ups and remissions where the disease is sometimes active and at other times quiet. It is in the flare up stage of RA that all the damage is done to the joints and surrounding tissues.
RA can affect people of all ages and even very young children can get a form of the disease known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure for RA and it is a disease that generally gets worse slowly with time and recurrent flare ups, but some things can be done to minimise the damage and reduce the number of flare ups people get.
It leads to destruction of the joint cartilage, bone and ligaments and causes deformity of the joint and surrounding area and can affect all joints in the body equally. People will usually have some joints that are worse off than others.
RA can also affect other areas of the body including the eyes, lungs, heart, spleen, blood and other tissues.
The main treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is drug therapy overseen by a specialist. Physiotherapy can also help, especially when the disease is in remission (not active) to strengthen muscles and reduce stiffness in the joints. As with osteoarthritis learning your own limits and how far you can go before you make your joints worse is very important. Rest during flare up periods is also essential to minimise damage to joints and calm symptoms down.