About 50 million people in the U.S. have arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation – that’s about one of every six Americans suffering from the painful condition. But even though it’s a pretty common disease, many people don’t know what causes arthritis or what options they have for relieving pain, stiffness and other symptoms. If you have arthritis – or if you suspect you do – here’s what you should know about the disease and its treatment.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a progressive disease that causes destruction of your joints – or more specifically, the material that lines your joints – over time. There are two primary types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type, becoming more prevalent as we get older and wear and tear takes its toll on our joints. It’s also more common among athletes and other people whose joints are subjected to excessive use or strain. The second major type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system “mistakenly” attacks and destroys the joints’ protective lining material. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, including during childhood. In addition to these two main types, arthritis can also develop in a joint that’s been injured or that’s had surgery.
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Arthritis and Your Joints
Until they start to hurt, we all tend to take out joints for granted. Like the rest of our bodies, our joints have a pretty ingenious design. Joints are formed at the junction of bones. The ends of these bones are covered in slick, durable cartilage that helps the bones move smoothly and without painful friction.
In arthritis, the cartilage covering begins to break down and wear away, either from disease, infection, injury, or wear and tear from years of joint use. As the layer erodes, the ends of the bones become exposed, and friction inside the joint builds up, resulting in inflammation, pain, stiffness and loss of mobility. Although these symptoms can vary in their intensity, arthritis is a progressive degenerative disease, which means it tends to become worse over time. Like pretty much any disease, the earlier you seek medical treatment, the better your chances of reducing your symptoms and retaining normal joint function and mobility.
Lots of people think if they have arthritis, especially in a major joint like the knee or the hip, the only option is joint surgery. While surgery using today’s state-of-the-art surgical techniques and components can be a great option for some people, many men and women can relieve or substantially reduce their symptoms with other non-invasive or minimally-invasive therapies, including:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications to reduce inflammation and the pain it can cause
- Physical therapy to reduce joint stiffness and improve mobility
- Lifestyle changes, including better ergonomics at work, moderate physical activity to prevent joint stiffness and weight loss to eliminate extra strain on weight-bearing joints
- Joint injections to supplement natural joint fluid or to relieve inflammation and pain
- A combination of these approaches
In nearly every case, surgery is only considered when these other options fail to provide long-term, meaningful relief from arthritis symptoms.
What if I need joint surgery?
If your doctor determines surgery is the best option to reduce your symptoms and improve your mobility and your quality of life, don’t panic: Today’s minimally-invasive, arthroscopic and robot-assisted surgical approaches mean less tissue damage, less discomfort, and much faster healing and recovery compared to surgery of just a few years ago.
Different surgical techniques are available depending on which joint is involved, the extent of the joint damage and other factors. Some surgeries can be completed on an outpatient basis, while others require a brief hospital stay to help you through the initial stages of healing. Patients who have joint surgery typically find their quality of life is significantly improved, and many are able to resume activities they’d once found too painful to enjoy.
Don’t delay care!
Because arthritis is progressive, seeking treatment early is the best way to slow joint damage and prevent or reduce disease symptoms. If you’re experiencing joint-related issues, including pain, stiffness, swelling, “grinding” or “clicking”, contact Franklin Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine at (615) 771-1116 and schedule an initial consultation to learn how we can help you maintain your joint health and improve your quality of life. Our doctors offer the highest quality service in Williamson County. That’s a guarantee!