Could That Pain Be Arthritis?

Could That Pain Be Arthritis?

Can you feel the impending rain in your old football injury? Perhaps you experience a dull, throbbing pain in your hip when you wake up. Your hand may be consistently achy in the winter from the cold. All of these symptoms could indicate a case of arthritis.

In short, arthritis is joint inflammation. “Arthral means joint, itis means inflammation. Too much inflammation of the joint is what’s causing the pain,” says Dr. Joshua Miller, general orthopedist with Riverside Healthcare.


Breaking Down Joint Function

Knowing how joints work can help you understand what causes arthritis. Our bones are dense and sturdy in order to support our weight and provide functional structure. But, bones contain nerves. Without something between connecting bones, movement would irritate those nerves. “So, our body has a cap, basically, on the ends of the bones,” explains Dr. Miller.

Articular cartilage on the ends of bones absorbs shock and bears loads. “Healthy cartilage is bathed in joint fluid, which has an amazing property: being thixotropic,” notes Dr. Miller. “At low speeds, joint fluid is very thick—like a heavy motor oil—and it’s very cushioning. So, if you’re doing heavy lifting, it spreads the load out across the joint and protects it. Alternatively, if you’re running at high speeds, it becomes very thin and much less viscous so it has little resistance and can allow the joint to move really quickly.”


How Arthritis Occurs

Over time, the cartilage in the joints can break down into tiny fragments, causing arthritis. “These fragments can float out and get lodged in the lining of the joint. That causes irritation, which generally results in more fluid being produced,” states Dr. Miller. This leads to joint swelling, inflammation and pain.

The earlier part of one’s day often means greater pain and stiffness. As the body gets moving, the fluid gives joints an easier glide. Of course, a lot of pressure and stress can prompt the pain to return. Pain gets worse as that cartilage wears down even more.


Diagnosing and Addressing Arthritis

The first step in diagnosing arthritis is an x-ray. This can show presence of arthritis, but it doesn’t indicate how greatly the patient’s life is affected by joint pain.

Because arthritis is a product of inflammation, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can provide relief. Additionally, nutraceuticals like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may assist joint function. When pain can’t be eased by anti-inflammatories, an injection into the pained area is typically the next step.

Bracing is also an option to support the joint and aid mobility. Physical therapy can be helpful as well. “Many studies show that if we do a good, low impact arthritis program—which is to build strength in a way that doesn’t hurt—it can make a tremendous difference,” assures Dr. Miller.

“Overall, if you’re experiencing pain or symptoms, coming to see our orthopedic specialists is a great first step,” he adds.

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