May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about the disease that affects more than 54 million Americans. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting about 20% of adults.
It is likely that everyone knows at least one person — if not many people — with this disease, and it is common for older people to be struggling with it, but what exactly is arthritis and how does it affect daily life?
What Is Arthritis
Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint caused by reduced cartilage between joints. For example, if you fall, get whiplash, or participate in high-impact exercise, cartilage protects your joints by absorbing shock, pressure, and stress. It’s flexible enough to go with the flow of your body movements, yet firm enough to keep it together when your body is experiencing physical pressure or stress.
More than 100 types of arthritis exist, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common. Normal and extended use of joints causes osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis older people typically get. Rheumatoid arthritis, more commonly known as RA, is an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s immune system attacks itself. RA affects the soft tissue that nourishes cartilage. Without the proper function of this soft tissue, the cartilage cannot do its job. When you hear people speaking about arthritis, they are typically speaking about osteoarthritis.
Arthritis Diagnosis and Treatment
Typically, osteoarthritis symptoms develop over time; however, they can develop suddenly. Some experience arthritis in just one joint, but multiple joints in different parts of the body can have arthritis simultaneously.
Arthritic symptoms like pain, stiffness, and swelling are often worse in morning after being in one position for an extended period of time. The weather can also affect arthritis symptoms. Cold and humid weather can make symptoms worse and decrease or limit the body’s range of motion. Undiagnosed or untreated, these symptoms can make daily life really difficult.
Arthritis is diagnosed through a physical exam by your doctor. Your doctor may test inflammation levels in your blood and joint fluids to determine the type and severity of arthritis. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can also give a better view of your bones and cartilage so your doctor can make a more holistic treatment recommendation.
Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, but arthritis can usually be comfortably managed with the right treatment. Since each person experiences arthritis differently, there is no single treatment that works for everyone. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications. Joint replacement surgeries are common for arthritic knees, hips, and shoulders. Physical therapy, massages, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can also be effective treatment for arthritic symptoms.
Arthritis is extremely painful and can be debilitating for those who have it. Women are more likely to suffer from arthritis than men, and those who have a family history of the disease are more likely to develop it. While there are some risk factors you can’t control, there are several you can. Following the following steps you can help to prevent or alleviate arthritic symptoms.
- Eat Well
Eating a healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants contributes to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. A diet that meets your body’s nutritional needs will fight infection and reduce inflammation.
- Maintain Healthy Weight
Carrying around extra weight contributes to the development of the disease. Cartilage between joints wear away more quickly as more pressure is put on them. This is why knee and hip replacement surgeries are common.
- Control Blood Sugar
Research shows that elevated blood sugar levels and diabetes can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Uncontrolled blood sugar and affect inflammation in the joints, which leads to cartilage loss. It is common to be diagnosed with both diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Exercise is key to losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood sugar. Light or moderate physical exercise can help easy arthritis symptoms. Try no-impact or light impact exercises like swimming or the elliptical trainer.
- Protect Joints
It is important to protect cartilage because it doesn’t heal very fast or very well. In fact, arthritis is seven times more likely to develop in injured joints than healthy ones. Wear protective gear (elbow pads and knee pads, for example) when playing sports. Also be sure to have help when lifting heavy objects and to wear supportive shoes when standing for long periods of time.
- Educate Yourself
Like with all matters related to your health, education is empowering. The more you know about diseases like arthritis, the better you can protect yourself. National Arthritis Awareness Month is a great time to share your new-found knowledge with others.
Canopy Health: Your Wellness Partner
Arthritis affects many in the Bay Area, and the Canopy Health network is here to support, diagnose, and treat those individuals. Our healthcare network is made up of some of the most respected and gifted caregivers in the country who are ready to help you be the best you, inside and out.
Canopy Health wants to help guide you through all phases of life and health with top-notch physicians and health and wellness classes to support you and your entire family. For more information on the Canopy Health network, call 888-8-CANOPY to speak with one of our knowledgeable and friendly customer service representatives.
Arthritis Awareness Month. (2016 May 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/arthritisawareness/