What is Arthritis and how can you relieve its symptoms?

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints. Joints get cushioned and supported by soft tissues that prevent bones from rubbing against each other. A connective tissue called articular cartilage plays an important role. It helps the joints move smoothly without friction or pain allowing for a range of movements. Other joins have a synovial membrane, a padded pocket of fluid that lubricates the joints. Arthritis occurs when these connective tissues are affected overuse, underuse or hereditary causes. Different effects of arthritis include wear and tear, formation of hard crystals in the joints and breakdown of connective tissue by the immune system itself (Peterson, 2020).

What are the types of arthritis?

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Less common forms include gout, psoriatic arthritis and juvenile arthritis (Peterson, 2020).

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common type of arthritis. It initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This causes pain, stiffness and an increased difficulty in movement. Once the cartilage lining starts to become more rough and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to compensate and work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs called osteophytes. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bones directly scraping on each other, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position (Peterson, 2020).

What is Rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to swelling and pain. The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the initial place to be affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to more swelling and an alteration in the shape of the joint. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may also develop problems with other tissues and organs in the body (Peterson, 2020).

Which parts of the body are affected most by arthritis?

Arthritis is more common in certain joints more than others. The more commonly affects areas include the feet, hands, hips, knees and lower back (Peterson, 2020).

What are the causes of arthritis?

Arthritis can be caused by a number of factors. These include general wear and tear, excessive exercise, too little exercise, genetics, obesity and autoimmune conditions. The right amount of exercise has been shown to correlate with the healthiest joints reducing the risk of arthritis. A lack of exercise would mean that the joint is compressed less leading to a lower rate of exchange between nutrients and waste for that region. This can lead to arthritis of the join. Conversely, too much exercise can thin out the soft tissue causing the joint to become more inflamed and possibly deformed (Peterson, 2020).

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

The pain from arthritis is different from other pains in that it develops gradually over many months or even years. It often gets worse with activities that place stress on the joints such as running. Swelling also tends to increase slowly over time. Another symptom is pain and/or stiffness after prolonged rest, this is especially observed in the morning after a night’s sleep. Crunching or grinding sounds coming from the joint are another sign. A burning sensation with some swelling can be an early indicator as well (Peterson, 2020).

How is a patient tested for arthritis?

Arthritis is usually detected with an x-ray if recommended by the doctor. An MRI or ultrasound can also be ordered if there is risk of extensive damage to get a better picture of the joint and its surroundings. The doctor will be looking for any signs of inflammation, erosion or joint distress (Peterson, 2020).

How is arthritis treated?

Intermittent hot and cold packs are used. Although these must be used as directed by the doctor. Using the cold packs too long for example may cause numbness which would provide temporary relief but would make the pain worse once the numbness goes away. Physical therapy is another form of treatment working on reducing the pain and swelling effects whilst ensuring the joint stays as healthy as possible. Weight loss can help especially if being overweight is what caused the arthritis in the first place, removing the excess load from the joints can provide relief. Lastly, support devices such as canes or braces can also help patients whose joints hurt more during certain movements; these devices can help keep the joint in a good range reducing symptoms (Peterson, 2020).

How is arthritis affected by winter?

Most arthritis patients feel worse in the winter. This is because the cold causes reduced blood flow and heightened pain sensitivity. The swelling may also worsen as the joints can expand due to a shift in barometric pressure cause by the weather. Wearing the appropriate clothing such as gloves can help a great deal in reducing the symptoms. Exercise is another way to warm up the join and loosen them up. Lastly, having a warm shower or bath can be a great way to provide warm to the muscles and joints reducing the pain caused by arthritis (Peterson, 2020).

Related content

To know more about this topic, check out episode#35 on DOTIVthepodcast titled “Is Arthritis triggered by winter?” with hosts Guni & Thasha and guest Freya Gilmore.


Peterson, L., 2020. Mayo clinic guide to arthritis. [S.l.]: RosettaBooks, pp.25-75.

What is Arthritis and how can you relieve its symptoms?

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