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According to estimates, one in every five people living in the United States has signs or symptoms of arthritis in at least one joint. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States and it affects millions of people. Approximately half of all sufferers are under age 50. There are many types of arthritis, but most fall into one of two major categories: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. Physical examination, evaluation of symptoms, X-rays, blood work and other laboratory testing may be used to make a diagnosis and determine the category of the disease.


Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a result of constant or excessive use, trauma or injury, or wear and tear that occurs as part of the natural aging process. As the cartilage that covers the bone ending gradually wears away, bone growths or "spurs" may develop, the bone may become hard and firm, and the joint may become inflamed which leads to swelling, pain and weakness, especially during continued use of the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, affects many parts of the body, but primarily the joints. This chronic autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system produces chemical substances that attack and destroy its own tissues. The result is usually swelling, stiffness and pain, even when the joint is not used. RA often appears in smaller joints first, such as the hand or wrist, and it is symmetrical, usually affecting the same joint on both sides of the body. Although the exact cause of RA is not yet known, doctors suspect genetics as well as chemical or environmental factors may play a part.


Cartilage that becomes worn, damaged or lost cannot provide a smooth gliding surface for the joint. As bone begins to rub on bone, the body attempts to make up for this lost cartilage by producing fluid in the joint lining to act as a cushion. This results in swelling which restricts motion and causes stiffness and pain. Early symptoms of arthritis may include dull pain or a burning sensation that may occur immediately after use or not until the following day. Morning pain and stiffness are common, as is pain during the night. Due to the body's inflammatory response, an arthritic joint may sometimes feel warm to the touch.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Physical therapy and exercise can be used to decrease stiffness and strengthen weakened muscles around the joint. Use of special techniques, canes, crutches, walkers or splints can all help relieve stress and strain on joints and make daily activities much more comfortable. Prescription medications, injections of cortisone into the joint, or viscosupplementation can also be effective methods for controlling joint pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen may be suitable for some patients, while others may be unable to take these drugs safely because of ulcers, asthma, kidney or liver disease, or other issues. Your physician will work with you to determine the most appropriate treatment or combination of treatments for the type and severity of your arthritis, and your overall health.


When nonsurgical methods of treatment fail to relieve the pain and symptoms of arthritis, your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend a surgical procedure, such as: removal of damaged or diseased joint lining, realignment of joints, fusing bone endings together to prevent painful joint motion, or total replacement of the joint. As with other treatments, you and your surgeon will make this decision together, based on the type and severity of your arthritis and your overall health and physical condition. In cases of severe arthritis, surgery may be the best option to dramatically relieve pain and restore lost function of the joint.

Long-Term Management

Arthritis does not have to mean a painful or sedentary life and most people with this disease are able to continue enjoying their normal activities. Seeking treatment early will help you to return to the daily life you love much more quickly.