5 Things You Should Know About Arthritis

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Arthritis has an immense level of impact on people of all age groups. It affects the joints and tissues, which can cause severe pain and swelling. More than 54.4 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs.

Kamaljeet Banga is an orthopedic surgeon for the Center for Orthopedic Care at Oswego Health and a clinical professor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.
Kamaljeet Banga is an orthopedic surgeon for the Center for Orthopedic Care at Oswego Health and a clinical professor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

“Arthritis is a very common problem. Many people don’t know there are various types of arthritis and as you get older, your symptoms can become more severe,” said Kamaljeet Banga, an orthopedic surgeon for the Center for Orthopedic Care at Oswego Health and a clinical professor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. “If you take care of your joints, you can delay the process of deterioration.”

Arthritis can be a very generalized term which covers many conditions such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus and gout. With each condition, there are various forms of wear and tear along with joint inflammation, whether that be in the hip, knee or small joints of the hand, feet and spine. The most common form of arthritis is a condition in which the cartilage, or special tissue that coats the ends of bones within a joint, wears down with time.

1. Misconceptions
Whether it is home remedies, inaccurate internet fixes or just plain personal opinions, there remain many myths about how to turn back the clock on arthritis. Some think that it will simply get better on its own which incorrectly has caused many patients to delay needed joint replacement surgery where they have lived in pain for years unnecessarily. There is another myth that experts consistently have to dispel.

“Most people think that this is a problem for only people over the age of 60,” said Banga. “That is quite inaccurate. We are seeing more and more younger people even in their 20s and 30s who are having some form of arthritis.”

2. Symptoms
Common symptoms include swelling of the joints, slight pain in joints in regular movements, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms can come and go. Sometimes they can be mild, moderate or severe. Inflammation is a chemical reaction that stems from normal immune function and produces five classic signs: pain, swelling, warmth, heat and loss of function.

“If you experience swelling in the joints and you can feel a decrease in range of motion of your joints, those are some well-known signs of arthritis,” said Banga. “Patients also say they hear cracking of their joints when there is no cartilage. It causes them to have difficulty walking or waking up in pain with a feeling that they hear their joints clicking.”

3. Common treatments
With arthritis, many orthopedic doctors treat the condition nonsurgical first using braces for knee and hip problems. The brace helps stabilize the joints, especially for those who experience falls.

There are also ways to strengthen core and back muscles to help with the joints. There are many different types of directly injectable materials that can relieve pain such as steroids or cortisone.

But once it gets to a certain level then surgery may become an option. Banga said the situation changes when it reaches grade 3 osteoporosis, which is where the cartilage between bones shows obvious damage and thinning so the space between the bones begins to narrow.

“That is when the patient starts experiencing bone on bone. A lot of patients say that is when their quality of life really starts being impacted. They can’t walk that far without dealing with pain from day to day,” added Banga.

Doctors recommend incorporating less traditional techniques like water-based therapy, acupuncture and massage. Over the counter pain relievers such as Tylenol can help decrease pain, while anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen can directly block the chemical pathways that lead to inflammation in the body.

4. Exercise and diet
What you eat and how you take care of your body can significantly help you when it comes to either avoiding arthritis or lessening its impact. Eating anti-inflammatory foods such as lean proteins, fruits, nuts, leafy greens, whole grains and good fats such as avocado, is a start. In addition, regular exercising, especially those activities that don’t cause joint damage, is recommended.

That is why weight matters, because when you walk across level ground, the force on your knees is the equivalent of 1½ times your body weight. That means a 200-pound man will put 300 pounds of pressure on his knees with each step. The force on each knee is two to three times your body weight when you go up and down stairs, and four to five times your body weight when you squat to tie a shoelace or pick up an item you dropped.

“When you see the pressure that you put on your joints, you understand how weight can become a major factor. That is why we recommend people maintain a healthy lifestyle and low impact joint exercises like swimming or anything that focuses on range of motion,” said Banga.

5. Listen to your body
Arthritis is a very prevalent condition that impacts the lives of millions of Americans each year, and many resources have been dedicated to understanding the condition and its management.

He also cautions patients against having a lackluster approach to their condition.

“Some people think once you have arthritis there is nothing you can do about it. I tell people all the time that you have to change their lifestyle. There are many things you can do to either prevent arthritis or at least lessen the long-term effects,” he added.