Arthritis

Arthritis can be distracting. Distressing. And disheartening. It can make you hesitant. It can frustrate — and even prevent — you from doing all the things you love to do. It is, quite literally, a pain. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The good news is that you can live — and live well — with arthritis. You can get relief from its pain and its consequences. One of the best and effective ways to combat arthritis pain is simple: exercise. Regular exercise not only helps maintain joint function, but also relieves stiffness and decreases pain and fatigue. Other ways to ease arthritis pain include medications, physical therapy, joint replacement surgery, and some alternative or complementary procedures.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It starts with the deterioration of cartilage, the flexible tissue lining joints. The space between bones gradually narrows and the bone surfaces change shape. Over time, this leads to joint damage and pain. The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop over many years. The first sign is often joint pain after strenuous activity or overusing a joint. Joints may be stiff in the morning, but loosen up after a few minutes of movement. Or the joint may be mildly tender, and movement may cause a crackling or grating sensation.

Osteoarthritis was long considered a natural consequence of aging, the result of gradual wearing down of cartilage. The cause of osteoarthritis is much more complex than simple wear and tear. External factors, such as injuries, can initiate chronic cartilage breakdown. Inactivity and excess weight can also trigger the problem or make it worse. Genetic factors can affect how quickly it gets worse.

There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. But there are effective treatments that can greatly improve a person's quality of life by relieving pain, protecting joints, and increasing range of motion in the affected joint. Therapy usually involves a combination of nondrug treatments such as heat, ice, and exercise; medication for pain and inflammation; and the use of assistive devices such as canes or walkers. In some cases, more aggressive treatment with surgery or joint replacement may be needed.

Arthritis Articles

Managing osteoarthritis of the knee

More than two-thirds of women over age 60 have painful, tender, or swollen knees. Osteoarthritis—the breakdown of joint cartilage—is the usual culprit. Although total knee replacement can help, it's best to first try simpler, safer noninvasive strategies like weight loss and exercise. (Locked) More »

Torn knee cartilage

I'm 72 and in good health. I've had left knee pain for almost six months. My doctor sent me for an MRI of both knees; it showed "mild to moderate osteoarthritis" in both knees and a torn meniscus in my right knee. What should I do for my "good" knee? (Locked) More »

Talking of walking in three easy pieces

Studies examine various aspects of the health benefits of walking: gait speed, use of hiking poles, and type of footwear. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have shown that walking may also serve as something of a prognosticator. Results of their research show that after about age 65, how fast we walk, or gait speed may predict how long we have to live. Results from several studies show that using hiking poles while walking at a fairly brisk pace does seem to increase cardiovascular workload. Some studies show that people have an increased physiological response but don't feel as though any more exertion is involved. One study of people who have pain in their legs while walking because of poor circulation found that they were able to walk farther with less pain if they used hiking poles. Pain from arthritic knees makes walking difficult for many people, and shoes with thick, cushiony soles are commonly believed to help. But some research is challenging that conventional wisdom with results that suggest that thinner, more flexible soles actually put less load on the knees. More »

Rubbing it in

Topical pain-relief products provide quick relief for sore muscles and joints, but they vary in effectiveness. People whose stomachs are sensitive to oral pain relief medications may prefer to use a cream or ointment. (Locked) More »

When walking makes your legs hurt

There are other conditions besides arthritis that can make walking difficult and even painful, such as peripheral artery disease, chronic venous insufficiency, lumbar spinal stenosis, and diabetic neuropathy. More »