Though pain is never pleasant, it’s an important signal our bodies use to warn there’s something wrong. Usually, what’s wrong is that you have an injury of some kind, or in some cases your body can even be misfiring pain signals.
When you have an injury – in the case of arthritis, an injury to your joints – the damaged tissues release chemicals that alert nearby sensory nerves. These nerves carry the message up your spinal cord to your brain. Your brain processes the message and sends a signal to your motor nerves to take action.
So how do you know if your symptoms are caused by arthritis or something else? While joint pain and stiffness are the most common terms used to describe arthritis, the warning signs are quite specific. Here’s what you need to know to get the right diagnosis, and the best treatment.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Joint pain and tenderness
- Inflammation in and around the joints
- Restricted movement of the joints
- Warm, red skin over the affected joint
Technically, pain is considered chronic when it lasts three to six months or longer, but arthritis pain can last a lifetime. The symptoms of arthritis depend on the type that you have and the location. While there are multiple types of arthritis, the two main types are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, which often gets worse with age and is caused by wear and tear. This type of arthritis affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness. Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint called the synovium is the first place that becomes affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape, and may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. Unfortunately, people with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Tips for relief from the painful symptoms of arthritis:
1. Exercise: Light to moderate physical activity is often one of the best things for the body. Remember to stay hydrated and don’t overdo it. You can often get a specific exercise plan catered to your specific needs or condition, made up by your healthcare professional.
2. Use hot and cold therapy: This often depends on the type of tightness or swelling involved, but it’s best to speak to a doctor or physical therapist about the proper ice or heat therapy to stick to.
3. Eat a healthy diet: Believe it or not, there is a whole list of different types of food that are known to either cause or reduce inflammation in the body.
4. Manage your weight: Simply put, the less weight and pressure put onto bones and joints, the better.
If you’re living with chronic pain due to arthritis, it may be time to take a closer look at your symptoms and explore treatment options. For more information about arthritis and other painful joint conditions, call Tucson Orthopaedic Institute at our East Tucson office at (520) 784-6200, Northwest Tucson office at (520) 382-8200, or Oro Valley office at (520) 544-9700. To request an appointment, you can call or use our secure online appointment request form.