There are several different forms of arthritis, but the two main types cause damage to the joints in different ways. Osteoarthritis is caused by general wear and tear to the cartilage in the joints, which is the hard coating found on the ends of the bones. When enough damage is done, the bones begin to grind directly on other bones and this causes restriction in movement and pain. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system begins to attack the joint capsule lining, a tough membrane enclosing the parts of the joint. As a result, the lining becomes swollen and inflamed. As the disease progresses, cartilage and bone inside the joint can become severely damaged.
Because arthritis is progressive, a proper diagnosis followed by treatment is essential. While there is no cure for arthritis, it is important to understand that there are treatment options that can slow the progression and alleviate symptoms in order to prevent daily life from becoming more difficult. Arthritis in joints that bear weight can cause walking, sitting or standing difficulties, and arthritis in the hands and arms can interfere with daily tasks.
The most common symptoms that physicians associate with arthritis directly involve the joints. The signs and symptoms include a decreased range of motion, redness, swelling, stiffness and pain. The symptoms can vary depending on what type of arthritis the patient has, so identifying the specific symptoms is essential for a physician to choose the proper diagnosis. A physician will want to analyze different types of fluids from the body in order to pinpoint the specific type of arthritis, such as blood, joint fluid and urine. The physician will utilize aspiration in order to withdraw joint fluid from a joint space using a needle. The physician may also utilize computerized tomography, X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound and arthroscopy in order to determine the cause for the pain, inflammation and swelling.
The treatment for arthritis will focus on symptom relief and improvement in joint function. It may require a combination of treatments before the right answers are found. Physicians will recommend medications such as disease-modifying antirheumetic drugs or DMARDs, counterirritants, NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics. They may also recommend corticosteroids for inflammation and biologics, which work in conjunction with DMARDs. Physical therapy can also help to alleviate pain and range of motion issues. Surgical options include joint replacement surgery and joint fusion surgery, though these are only used when other treatment options are not working. Some more natural treatments include acupuncture/acupressure, chiropractic care, massage and yoga. The first wave of treatment will typically involve a mix of medications for swelling, pain and other issues followed by physical therapy in an attempt to return some lost motion ability.