Arthritis is a pretty complicated disease. It’s one thing to know that modern medicine has yet to find a cure for it, but it’s another thing to know that more than 54 million people in the United States alone have one of the 100-plus diseases classified as arthritis.
As a collection of diseases that affect the joints, arthritis is very common, and it’s the leading cause of disability in the country. One out of every four adults in the U.S. have it, plus over 300,000 adolescents. But we also don’t know that much about it compared to other disabling conditions. It’s good to know the hard science behind your joint pain, but you’ve got to start with the basics, the top-level facts. In this article, we specifically address seven of the most important concepts about arthritis.
1. There are More Than 100 Kinds of Arthritis
As we mentioned in the intro, “arthritis” is not a single condition. It actually refers to over 100 conditions that affect and cause pain in the joints. You may have heard of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are the two most common forms of arthritis, but conditions like juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, infectious arthritis, fibromyalgia, and more are out there impacting lives.
While all of these arthritic conditions similarly affect the joints, how they do so is different, including their symptoms and risk factors. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory type of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is more “wear and tear” and non-inflammatory.
This is why it’s important for your doctor to correctly diagnose your specific type of arthritis so you can have the best path to treatment. You must talk to your doctor and educate yourself on the common symptoms and treatment regiments.
2. Your Diet Can Affect Your Arthritis Pain
Just like heart disease and diabetes, your diet can affect your arthritis. While medications and injections are the most common forms of arthritis treatment, what you eat and drink also can contribute to the severity of your symptoms. So, knowing what to avoid and what to enjoy can have a significant impact on joint inflammation.
Foods that can reduce inflammation in your joints include:
- Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dark leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage)
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on greater intake of fruits and vegetables and less on red meat and chicken, which can inflame your joints.
In terms of foods that promote inflammation:
- Red meats
- Heavily processed foods
- Meats grilled at high temperatures
- Fried foods
The great thing about the Mediterranean Diet is that it doesn’t prohibit any of these foods. Rather, it recommends you merely enjoy them as an occasional treat rather than a dietary staple.
3. Exercise Can Actually Help Your Joints
It might seem counterintuitive that joint movement can lessen arthritis pain, but it’s scientifically proven that regular, low-impact exercise can help ease the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Multiple studies have shown that 30 to 45 minutes of low-impact exercises three or four days a week dramatically helps people with arthritis.
What do we mean by “low impact?” These exercises get your body moving but don’t add stress to your joints as running or jumping can. A few of our favorites include:
- Water aerobics
- Tai Chi
- Resistance training
We’ve even created an entire blog post about exercises that can lessen your arthritis pain.
4. Arthritis is More Than Just ‘Getting Old’
Perhaps the oldest myth in the book, arthritis isn’t an “old person” disease. In reality, arthritis can affect anyone at any age, of any gender, and of any race or ethnicity. However, the actual onset of arthritis depends on many factors, which researchers postulate is a combination of factors both genetic (i.e. you’re genetically predisposed to developing arthritis) and environmental (i.e. improperly healed injuries, smoking, obesity, overuse of joints, etc.).
That said, some forms of arthritis are more prevalent as you age, such as osteoarthritis, which is caused by cartilage breakdown over years of use. Others, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), arrive with limited warning. RA occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your joints.
In fact, researchers still don’t fully understand what triggers this disease, but it can affect both children and adults. Today, RA affects more than 1.5 million Americans, and it can be a very serious condition if left untreated.
5. It’s OK to Take It Easy
As Americans, we tend to measure the quality of our days by their successes. We only have good days if we’re productive, right? If we weren’t active and making things happen, then the day was essentially wasted.
But with arthritis, it’s not that black and white.
Some days, you just don’t feel like your normal self. Joint pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, swelling, and inflammation can all impede on how “productive” your day is — and that’s perfectly OK. For example, if you have arthritis in your hands or wrist, the last thing you want to do is use your hands all day, especially if you’re typing away at the computer. You should not be expected to work through your pain.
You must first ensure your arthritis symptoms are adequately treated. After talking to your doctor about how your symptoms significantly impact your productivity at work, you should consider workplace accommodations.
Remember that arthritis does not control your life — you are in control!
6. Be Aware of All That Arthritis Can Change
As you can tell from the previous section, arthritis can affect more than your joints. Conditions like osteoarthritis are referred to as localized conditions, meaning they physically only impact your joints. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is considered systemic, meaning it attacks your entire body — not just your joints.
However, it’s important to recognize that every form of arthritis can be both physically and emotionally painful. These diseases can actually create a chemical imbalance in your brain that may cause depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, fatigue, and more. This is crucial to understand, as depression and anxiety can increase the severity of your arthritis symptoms, making them feel more painful than they really are.
Arthritis can go so far as to impact your social circles, your work life, and your family. We regularly recommend that anyone with medium to severe arthritis file for workplace accommodations.
To learn more, we’ve written a blog post about how arthritis pain affects your overall health.
7. The Internet isn’t Always the Most Reliable Source
You know what we’re talking about: those medical-related sites you visit to find out why your body aches, and they tell you it might be cancer. We’re not saying all sources are bad, but you need to pay attention to why a site gives you the information it does. That’s why our team at Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers puts a lot of time and effort into making sure our articles are as accurate as possible!
Ultimately, we believe that the internet is a highly useful tool for you to first independently investigate what may be causing your pain. It can help you identify your symptoms because you have a better understanding of what’s hurting and what it feels like. That way, your doctor can better recognize what’s happening in your body so they can help prescribe the best treatment plan possible.
In the case of arthritis, we obviously do not recommend self-diagnosing your symptoms. However, it is highly useful to read up on the common types of arthritis and their symptoms. This helps you learn about the different treatment options you have, such as the anti-inflammatory diet or the low-impact exercises we discussed earlier.
The better informed you are, the better chances you may have of symptom relief.
More Information on Arthritis
This article merely scratches the surface of the arthritis world! We hope you leave feeling more informed about arthritis and what to do next — If you suspect you may have osteoarthritis, call our office today and schedule an appointment to speak to one of our Board Certified Physicians! The earlier you can get your arthritis under control, the sooner you’ll be living a life free of pain. Who doesn’t want that?
More resources on arthritis: