Arthritis Awareness Month

Shot of a senior man and woman working out with the help of an instructor

Arthritis is defined literally as “the inflammation of a joint.” It’s a major cause of lost work time for many people and can cause serious disability. Though it mainly affects adults, children can also suffer from arthritis.

In honor of arthritis awareness month, here’s what you need to know about the disease.


Arthritis is a disease of the joint, which is where two or more of the bones meet. A smooth cartilage tissue covers the ends of the bones in a joint, which allows the joint to move without the friction that would come with bone-on-bone contact. A fibrous envelope called the synovium, which produces a fluid that helps reduce friction, encloses joints. Ligaments connect the joints to the bones and keep the joint stable, while muscles and tendons enable the joint to move.


There are two main categories of arthritis. The first, osteoarthritis, is caused by wear and tear through the natural aging process. The second is caused by one a number of inflammatory processes. No matter what the cause is, an arthritis-inflicted joint becomes inflamed, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. This is usually temporary, but in arthritic joints, inflammation could lead to long-lasting or permanent disability.

Natural History


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. This type is a result of the overuse, trauma or degeneration of a joint as the body ages. Osteoarthritis is often more painful in joint that bear weight, such as the hip, knee and spine. However, joints that experience extensive use in sports or have been damaged from injuries may also show signs of osteoarthritis. In many osteoarthritis cases, bone growths called “spurs” develop at the edges of joints and the bone can become hard and firm. This makes continued use of the joint painful.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-lasting disease, and it’s estimated that just 1 percent of population throughout the world suffer from it. Women are three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. This form of arthritis affects many parts of the body, but its effects are mainly concentrated in the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joint lining swells and in turn invades surrounding tissues. The body’s immune system then produces chemical substances that attack and destroy the joint surface. Swelling, pain and stiffness usually occur, even if the joint is not used.


Arthritis can be diagnosed through the evaluation of symptoms and a physical examination. Some common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Limited ability to move the joint, both with and without assistance
  • Signs that other joints are painful or swollen (symptom of rheumatoid arthritis)
  • A grating feeling or sound with movement
  • Pain when pressure is placed on the joint or the joint is moved


Over-the-counter medications known as anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to manage pain and inflammation in the joints. Prescription medications are also available to treat arthritis. A physician will recommend a medication based on the type of arthritis and its severity, as well as the general health of the patient. Injections of cortisone into the joint can temporarily relieve pain and swelling, though repeated, frequent injections into the same joint can damage it.

Exercise and Therapy

Canes, crutches, splints and walkers can alleviate the stress and strain on arthritic joints. Learning how to perform daily activities that put less stress on the joints can also be helpful.


If other nonsurgical methods fail to relieve symptoms, an orthopaedic surgeon may recommend surgery. There are a number of different surgical procedures, including the following:

  • Removing the diseased or damaged joint lining
  • Realignment of the joints
  • Fusing the ends of the bones in the joint together, preventing joint motion and relieving joint pain
  • Replacing the entire joint

Long-Term Management

Most arthritis patients can continue to perform normal activities of daily living. Exercise programs, anti-inflammatory drugs and weight reduction for obese persons are commonly used to reduce pain and improve function. In severe cases, orthopaedic surgery can provide extreme pain relief and restore lost joint function.


Most types of arthritis cannot currently be cured, though researchers continue to make progress in finding underlying causes for the major types of arthritis. In the meantime, orthopaedic surgeons as well as other physicians and scientists have developed several effective treatments for arthritis.


To learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatments for arthritis, visit