Ouch! That pain could be arthritis

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 7, 2022

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We all have them. Sudden, out-of-nowhere pains. Or nagging aches that flare up in cold, damp weather. And there’s the snap-crackle-pop morning routine, often accompanied by the body just refusing to move.

Some of the aches and pops can be attributed to an active lifestyle. Muscle soreness or injured tendons and ligaments are part of the price we pay for being fit.

However, for those of us of a “certain age,” persistent pain, particularly around the joints, could be a sign of arthritis. The risk of arthritis increases as we age. In many cases, injuries from years ago can trigger inflammation that results in arthritis.

This month is recognized as Arthritis Awareness Month, drawing attention to one of the most prevalent health conditions in this country. As many as one-in-four adults suffer from arthritis, with symptoms ranging from mild to debilitating.


Arthritis by the numbers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis currently affects some 58.5 million people in the US and is the leading cause of disability. Statistics show that more people miss work annually due to arthritis-related conditions than those related to diabetes, hypertension, heart problems or cancer.

The outlook for the condition, which has no cure, doesn’t seem to be improving. The CDC projects that by 2040:

  • 78 million (26%) adults aged 18 years or older will have diagnosed arthritis
  • Of adults with arthritis, an estimated 44% (35 million adults) will report activity limitations due to arthritis


Kinds of arthritis

Arthritis is a catchall diagnosis that includes more than 100 conditions affecting joints and surrounding tissue. However, those conditions fall into two primary categories—inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system that normally protects the body turns against it, causing inflammation and painful swelling in joints and tissue.

The basic role of inflammation is to rid the body of bacteria, viruses, tumor cells and unwanted invaders like splinters and insect bites. When it becomes chronic, inflammation can result in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. The degenerative disorder typically results from trauma or prolonged wear and tear on the joints. It mostly affects weight-bearing joints such as the knees, lower spine, hips or big toes. Pain and stiffness in the thumbs and fingers usually indicate OA as well.


Early signs of arthritis

Certain symptoms of arthritis signal that it’s time to see a doctor. The earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to manage arthritis. Watch for symptoms such as:

  • Joint pain, swelling or tenderness
  • Joint stiffness, particularly in the morning or after prolonged sitting
  • Grinding or grating sounds in knees, hips or other joints
  • Pain in a part of the body previously injured
  • Pain in the thighs, buttocks or groin, possibly indicating hip arthritis
  • Symmetrical pain in joints on both sides of the body
  • Persistent pain or stiffness in hands, feet or wrists.


Impact on daily activities

Once arthritis settles into the body, it doesn’t take long to feel its impact. Movements or tasks that we seemed perfectly capable of doing one day become nearly impossible.


Seemingly routine activities that are difficult for people with arthritis include:

  • Grasping small objects
  • Reaching above one’s head
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Climbing stairs without resting
  • Pushing, pulling or lifting objects more than 10 pounds
  • Walking moderate distances
  • Stooping, bending or kneeling


Treatment for arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, a treatment plan and lifestyle changes can help minimize pain and allow people to live healthier lives. Options include:

  • Weight management—extra pounds equal extra joint stress; an additional 10 pounds of weight puts 30 pounds of pressure on the knees
  • Physical activity—low-impact exercise such as swimming, cycling, yoga or walking helps improve movement
  • Physical therapy—therapists develop a customized plan for overall better flexibility and mobility
  • Massage and reflexology—full-body or massages targeting specific areas such as reflexology for the feet and hands can provide temporary pain relief
  • Medication—doctors may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers for osteoarthritis, while prescribing specific drugs for patients with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Injections—pain management specialists may suggest cortisone or hyaluronic acid injections for severe pain
  • Surgery—when pain becomes severe, joint replacement surgery may be needed


Katie Richard, MA, BSN, RN, is the education and training coordinator for Thibodaux Regional Wellness Education Center, 985-493-4765. Discuss chronic symptoms with your primary care doctor or a physician specialist. For help in finding a physician, call 985-493-4326.