Arthritis is a joint disorder featuring inflammation of one or more joints accompanied by pain.
There are many types and many causes ranging from those related to wear and tear of cartilage (such as osteoarthritis) to those associated with inflammation resulting from an overactive immune system (such as rheumatoid arthritis).
Causes include injury (leading to osteoarthritis), metabolic abnormalities (such as gout and pseudogout), hereditary factors, infections, and unclear reasons (such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus).
Regardless of the type or cause, painful symptoms include limited function of joints, inflammation of the joints, joint stiffness, swelling, redness, tenderness, fever, gland swelling, weight loss, fatigue, a general feeling of being unwell, and even symptoms from abnormalities of organs such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys.
Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis including men, women, and children.
Treatments including physical therapy, splinting, cold pack application, paraffin wax dips, anti-inflammation medications, immune-altering medications and surgical operations are all very dependent on an accurate diagnosis on your precise type by a doctor.
Many people use alternative methods such as herbs or therapies but it is always a wise practice to consult with your health care provider for diagnosis and for any recommended alternative or conventional pain controlling methods.
Call your health care provider if:
- Your joint pain persists beyond 3 days.
- You have severe unexplained joint pain.
- The affected joint is significantly swollen.
- You have a hard time moving the joint.
- Your skin around the joint is red or hot to the touch.
- You have a fever or have lost weight unintentionally.
It is possible to greatly improve your symptoms from osteoarthritis and other long-term types of arthritis without medications. In fact, making lifestyle changes without medications is preferable for osteoarthritis and other forms of joint inflammation.
Exercise is necessary to maintain healthy joints, relieve stiffness, reduce pain and fatigue, and improve muscle and bone strength.
An individualized exercise program tailored for you by physical therapists should include:
A physical therapist can apply heat and cold treatments as needed and fit you for splints or orthotic (straightening) devices to support and align joints if needed.
Your physical therapists may also consider water therapy, ice massage, or transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS).
Arthritis can damage your joints, internal organs, and skin. There are things you can do to keep the damage from getting worse. They might also make you feel better:
- Try to keep your weight down. Too much weight can make your knees and hips hurt.
- Exercise and keep moving all your joints. A physical therapist can show you effective ways to move more easily. Going for a walk every day may help also.
- Take your medicines when and how you are supposed to if prescribed.
- Try taking a warm shower in the morning.
- Rest can be just as important as exercise. Sleeping 8 to 10 hours per night and taking naps during the day can help you recover from flare-ups more quickly.
- Avoid holding one position for too long.
- Avoid positions or movements that place extra stress on your affected joints.
- Modify your home to make activities easier. For example, have grab bars in the shower, the tup, and near the toilet.
- Reduce stress, which can aggravate your symptoms. Try meditation, yoga, or
- Apply capsaicin cream (derived from hot chili peppers) to the skin over your painful joints.
- Eat a
diet rich in vitamins and minerals,
especially antioxidants like vitamin E.
- Try health food supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. These form the building blocks of cartilage, the substance that line joints.
Arthritis diagnosed and treated early can prevent joint damage. Find out if you have a family history of the disease and share this information with your doctor, even if you have no joint symptoms.
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