What is arthritis?
Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. Inflammation generally includes symptoms of redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Many different diseases can result in inflammation of the joints. Arthritis is therefore a general term that describes more than one hundred different diseases of the joints of your body.
In some types of arthritis, the cause of the disease is known, but in others it is still unknown. Some types of arthritis come on suddenly, and others develop slowly. Any joint can be affected, including the joints of your back, neck, knees, hips, shoulders, and fingers.
The diseases that cause arthritis can also attack muscle and connective tissue around joints. Some diseases may even damage other organs of the body, such as the kidneys, intestines, and heart. Due to the fact that the diseases inflame the joints, most arthritic conditions and related diseases involve chronic (long-term) pain. Over time, they may cause increasing damage to the joints or soft tissues of your body.
Your joints are beautifully designed to minimize stress and damage while you move. Nearly all joints of the body are synovial joints. Most joints where two bones come together and must move against one another to allow motion are synovial joints. Smooth, slick articular cartilage covers the end of the bones so the bones themselves don't rub together. Synovial fluid lubricates the joint and allows easier motion as well as helps to provide nutrition to the cartilage of the joint. Around the joint, connective tissue forms a watertight sac that is called the joint capsule. Small, fluid-filled sacs, called bursae, cushion parts of the joint where friction is particularly high and could causing rubbing on bones, muscles, or other soft tissue. Ligaments connect the bones together and tendons connect the muscles to bones.
A problem with any one of these parts of the joint can lead to abnormal biomechanics at the joint, resulting pain, and eventually inflammation of the joints, namely arthritis.
Many people of all ages suffer from arthritis. Almost two-thirds of arthritis patients are women, but for some specific types of arthritis the majority of sufferers are men.
Arthritis and related diseases are often painful to live with and sometimes very difficult to treat. The method of treatment will vary depending on the specific disease, however in nearly all cases, some form of drug management can be helpful. In addition, physiotherapy can be extremely useful to assist in pain management, as well as to ensure that changes in biomechanics due to pain or the breakdown of the joints from the inflammatory process itself is kept to an absolute minimum. Maintaining range of motion and strength of your joints and muscles is crucial to living with an arthritic condition.