As we age, there are a number of health problems that can creep in and make life miserable. Perhaps none of these are more insidious than arthritis. The joint pain and stiffness that results from arthritis can be debilitating, making simple daily activities difficult or even impossible.
There is little that can be done to stop the loss of connective tissue in affected joints, but it turns out there are many things you can do to help prevent the formation of arthritis in the first place.
What is Arthritis?
As a blanket term covering several different conditions, arthritis is used to describe degenerative musculoskeletal conditions affecting tissues such as ligaments and cartilage in your joints. There are two main forms of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Though both of these conditions result in joint stiffness, swelling, crepitus, and joint pain, they have very different causes and require different treatments.
Due to damage from physical stress, injury or joint misalignment, the connective tissue that pads and protects the end of your bones can wear away over time, leaving you with swelling, restricted range of motion, and pain in the affected joint. You may also experience discomfort from the formation of bone spurs or joint growth as your body tries to make up for the lack of connective tissue in damaged joints.
Depending on the cause and severity, arthritis can be treated with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescriptions, physical therapy, though in severe cases the pain may be bad enough to require joint replacement.
Is Arthrosis the Same as Osteoarthritis?
Arthrosis is a form of osteoarthritis that can affect many different joints in your body. One of the most prominent forms of arthrosis is facet arthrosis of the spine, also known as facet arthropathy. Joints in your neck and hands can also be affected by arthrosis, as can your hips and knees.
Arthrosis differs from rheumatoid arthritis in that it is caused by physical damage to joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition characterized by the body attacking its own tissue. This leads to inflammation and degradation of connective tissue in your joints even if you haven’t experienced the physical stresses of a high impact job or prolonged obesity.
How is Arthrosis Diagnosed and Treated?
You might think that pain in your joints would be an obvious and simple thing to diagnose, but with multiple possible causes, getting a proper diagnosis from a medical provider can be extremely helpful in diagnosing and treating your joint pain.
Since many factors contribute to the formation of arthritis, your doctor will want to perform a thorough physical examination. This will involve questions about family history, lifestyle, and other potential risk factors to help determine what might be contributing to your pain. Blood tests may also be ordered to determine whether markers of infection or inflammation are present.
Beyond blood tests, inspection of individual joints will likely be necessary to determine the extent of damage to your joints. Imaging with X-rays, CT scans, or MRI machines can help your doctor see how much space between your bones has been lost from soft tissue degradation. Measuring bone gaps is only part of the picture, though. Your doctor will also be looking for the formation of bone spurs or other abnormalities that could be causing pain or inhibiting normal movement of your joints.
Sometimes remote imaging isn’t enough to get the full story of what is going on in your body. In these cases, joint aspiration or arthroscopy may be necessary. In joint aspiration, fluid is collected from affected joints to be analyzed for markers of particular joint diseases. In an arthroscopy, a tiny incision is made near the joint and a small camera is inserted into the body to allow for the joint in question to be inspected directly.
One of the most important factors to consider in treating arthritis is determining how advanced the tissue damage has become. Knowing how much connective tissue remains in your affected joints can help your doctor understand what forms of treatment are still available. This can mean the difference between over-the-counter drugs and physical therapy or more extreme treatments like joint replacements and spinal fusions.
For less severe cases of arthrosis, pain management with NSAIDs or other pain relievers may be all that is necessary. If you are experiencing pain that cannot be managed with drugs alone, you may be a candidate for physical or occupational therapy.
Many kinds of arthrosis, particularly in the knees and hips, involve some amount of joint destabilization, which means physical therapy will likely be a part of your treatment. You may be given a set of strengthening and stabilizing exercises to improve your joint alignment and keep further damage from occurring. For individuals in certain professions where their work has contributed to joint tissue degradation, modifications to the work habits and environment may be necessary.
A last line of defense in treating arthrosis can be orthotics. Braces, shoe inserts, and splints can sometimes be used to realign your gait to help alleviate pressure on hurting knees or hips. Bracing can be used in conjunction with physical therapy to help prevent further joint damage, but it cannot regrow tissue that has been lost over time.
If bracing and physical therapy don’t help, joint replacement or joint fusion is a possible last resort. For hips and knees, replacing the joint entirely becomes a consideration when soft tissue loss has progressed to a point where no padding remains between your bones. If you are suffering from arthrosis in your back, spinal fusions can sometimes provide the necessary relief by preventing bones from moving against each other.
How Can You Prevent Arthrosis?
One of the greatest contributing factors to arthrosis is obesity. Being overweight puts tremendous strain on your body, and even a few excess pounds can add strain to joints affected by poor posture, genetic predisposition and other risk factors that could make you more susceptible to arthrosis.
Osteoarthritis can also occur from other forms of joint damage even if you are not overweight. This could involve working in a job that places repeated stresses on the body, or engaging in high impact sports. Individuals with a family history of arthritis may be more prone to joint disease as well.
It is important to get good medical advice when it comes to understanding whether you have one of the common types of arthritis, or if there is something else going on. Consultations with your primary care provider and orthopedic specialists can help you come up with a treatment plan that can provide pain relief or help improve lifestyle factors such as carrying too much body weight that can contribute to your pain.
At TrustCare, we know that taking the first step toward a diagnosis can be the hardest one. This is especially true for people who don’t have a primary care doctor, or who do not have ready access to specialists such as orthopedists who can help with diagnosing and treating conditions like arthrosis.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of arthritis and want to know what treatment options are available, visit one of our many TrustCare locations today. Our clinics are open seven days a week to help you get the care you need.