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What You Should Know About Arthritis

We often use the word “arthritis” as a shorthand term for “osteoarthritis.” That’s a type of arthritis where people—usually older people—have joint pain and stiffness. And while osteoarthritis is one of the most common type of arthritis, it’s not the only type. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions.

Brittany Panico, DO, a rheumatologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, explained that there are two main categories of arthritis—inflammatory and noninflammatory. Let’s start with noninflammatory, since that’s where you’ll find osteoarthritis.

What is noninflammatory arthritis?

With noninflammatory arthritis, you may have reduced mobility and bony changes in your joints, but you probably won’t notice swelling. It often strikes parts of the body like the knees, thumbs and spine. The joint stiffness and pain that affects people might be worse when they haven’t been active for a while and can ease once they get moving. Pain might be worse at night if you used the joint a lot that day.

What causes noninflammatory arthritis?

Usually, wear and tear on the joint where the bones meet is the leading risk factor for osteoarthritis. “This happens naturally as we age, but can also occur after an injury or repetitive activity, because of joint instability, after surgery or along with another type of arthritis,” Dr. Panico said. Genetics also plays a role in the age when you might develop osteoarthritis.

What is inflammatory arthritis?

With inflammatory arthritis, you might notice arthritis symptoms such as swelling or redness, and sometimes the affected joint feels warm. You might have pain in the morning that goes away and comes back later. Your pain could last a few hours or all day.

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout are common types of inflammatory arthritis.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis often affects the small joints of the hands and wrists and the jaw.
  • Lupus arthritis usually strikes joints further away from the middle of your body.
  • Psoriatic arthritis is often found in the knees, ankles, hands and feet.
  • Gout, which is caused by uric acid crystals that build up around your joints, commonly affects the big toe and the joints in the feet and ankles.

What causes inflammatory arthritis?

Your immune system can trigger types of inflammatory arthritis called autoimmune arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type. That’s an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system causes inflammation and swelling inside your joints.

Does having joint pain mean you have arthritis?

Arthritis is one of many things that can cause joint pain. “Joint pain is a symptom, not a diagnosis,” Dr. Panico said. You could have joint pain from an injury, an autoimmune condition, a side effect of medication or treatment, stress, vitamin deficiencies, genetic disorders or illnesses such as bacterial or viral infections. And sometimes, muscle pain feels like joint pain because the muscles surrounding the joints are tense or irritated.

“It’s normal for your joints to feel uncomfortable if you sit, stand or perform repetitive activities for a long time,” Dr. Panico said. “You’ll often feel better after moving or walking.”

Talk to your doctor about your joint pain if you have:

  • Joint swelling and decreased range of motion
  • Stiffness of the joint in the morning lasting longer than 30 to 60 minutes
  • Pain that gets worse over six weeks or so
  • Other symptoms like fever, weight loss or weakness

If you’re diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor can discuss treatment options based on other medications you take, the symptoms you have, and how arthritis affects different parts of the body.

Can young people get arthritis?

While osteoarthritis is more common in older adults, you’ll find people with arthritis in every age group. Some conditions cause arthritis and joint swelling in young children and adolescents. Arthritis affects almost 60 million adults and 300,000 children, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

How can you treat arthritis pain?

Arthritis treatment  will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. So, the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Your age when you first develop arthritis and the joints involved can help diagnose the type of arthritis you have. X-rays and blood tests can also help. It’s possible to have both inflammatory arthritis and noninflammatory arthritis.

If you have osteoarthritis, medications like ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen can help reduce pain. Treatment for inflammatory or autoimmune arthritis includes steroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic medications that can decrease inflammation.

Eating a healthy diet can help decrease pain and inflammation. And maintaining a healthy weight is essential since excess body weight can make a big difference in the pain you feel in weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees and spine.

The bottom line

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and, combined, they affect around 60 million people. If you’re one of them, medication and lifestyle changes can help ease your pain. To connect with an expert who can diagnose your symptoms and treat arthritis, reach out to Banner Health.

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Senior Health Orthopedics Rheumatology