American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Arthritis

Woman with osteoarthritisArthritis is a general term that refers to the degeneration or inflammation of a joint. Arthritis can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and other connective tissues. 

What is the most common type of arthritis?

Sometimes referred to as a degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis usually affects the hands and large weight-bearing joints of the body, such as the knees, hips and ankles. According to the Institute of Aging, scientists believe there are several factors for why osteoarthritis occurs in different joints. Osteoarthritis in the knees has been linked to being overweight or wearing high heels. Osteoarthritis in the hips or hands may be caused by heredity. 

Facts and Figures

  • An estimated 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis, many of them over the age of 45.

  • Arthritis is more common among women than men.

What are the warning signs of arthritis?

  • Swelling in one or more joints.

  • Early morning stiffness.

  • Recurring pain or tenderness in any joint.

  • Inability to move a joint normally.

  • Obvious redness or warmth in a joint.

  • Unexplained weight loss, fever or weakness combined with joint pain.

What to do if you see warning signs? 

If any warning signs last longer than two weeks, consult your family doctor. If you don't have a physician, consider finding a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients.

He or she may refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis. At the examination, the doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, do a physical exam and possible take X-rays or do lab tests. The doctor will then develop a plan for your treatment.

Short-Term Treatment

  • Medications: The most commonly used for medications for arthritis are anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter drugs, such as Motrin, Advil or Tylenol. However, adverse side effects may result from the long-term use of these medications. A new class of prescription medications (COX-2 inhibitors) provide relief with fewer side effects.

  • Heat and cold: Moist heat placed on a painful joint for 15 minutes may relieve the pain. An ice pack placed on a sore joint for 15 minutes may relieve the swelling or pain. Consult your doctor to see which is best for your type of arthritis.

  • Joint protection: Using a brace allows joints to rest and protects them from injury.

Long-Term Treatment

  • Weight reduction: Carrying excess pounds causes extra weight to be placed on weight-bearing joints. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, studies have shown that women who lose an average of 11 pounds reduce the development of arthritis in their knees.

  • Exercise: Swimming, light walking, yoga, water aerobics and range-of-motion exercises may reduce pain and stiffness. Always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

  • Surgery: In select patients, surgery may help provide relief from pain. The surgeon may realign the joint or replace the damaged joint with an artificial one.

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