Arthritis is a common condition that causes swelling, pain and stiffness in joints and connective tissues around the body.
Millions of people in the U.S. have some form of arthritis. The most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, but there are many other types. If you have arthritis, the type you have will guide your personalized treatment plan. We can help relieve your pain so you can restore the lifestyle you love.
Causes, types, and variants.
Arthritis means inflammation of a joint, and it includes any condition that causes pain, stiffness, redness and swelling in joints (where two or more bones meet), muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Arthritis is usually chronic and typically gets worse with age, but it can affect people of all ages. The cause depends on the type, and for some forms of arthritis, we still do not know the cause.
If your primary care provider has referred you or you think you might have a form of arthritis, make an appointment with a UCHealth specialist. The typical symptoms like pain and stiffness may be affecting your quality of life and keeping you from the activities you love. We can help with a personalized treatment plan that may include joint replacement.
Arthritis: types and variants
Ankylosing spondylitis. This disease causes the bones of the spine to grow together. It can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body. It can affect the shoulders, hips, ribs and the small joints of the hands and feet.
Gout. This condition causes uric acid crystals to build up in joints, such as the big toe. It causes occasional flares or attacks of severe pain and inflammation.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). This is a form of arthritis in children that causes inflammation and joint stiffness. Children often outgrow JRA, but it can affect bone development in a growing child.
Lupus. This is a chronic autoimmune disorder. It causes periods of inflammation and damage in joints, tendons and organs.
Osteoarthritis. A chronic disease of the joints, especially the weight-bearing joints of the knee, hip and spine. It destroys the padding on the ends of bones (cartilage) and narrows the joint space. It can also cause bone overgrowth, bone spurs, and reduced function. It occurs in most people as they age. It may also occur in young people from an injury or overuse.
Psoriatic arthritis. Affects some people who have psoriasis, a condition that features red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. Most people develop psoriasis first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, but the joint problems can sometimes begin before skin patches appear. Without treatment, psoriatic arthritis may be disabling.
Reactive arthritis. Triggered by an infection in another part of the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an inflammatory disease of the joint lining. The inflammation may affect all of the joints. It can also affect organs such as the heart or lungs.
Scleroderma. This autoimmune disease causes thickening and hardening of the skin and other connective tissue in the body.
Thumb arthritis. Occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of the bones that form the joint at the base of your thumb, called the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint.
Our specialists can treat all these forms of arthritis with proven methods. (And if you are worried about your habit of cracking your knuckles, don’t worry—we do know that this is not a proven cause of arthritis.)
Diagnosis and treatment
A range of treatment options are available.
The common symptoms of arthritis can appear to be the same as other health conditions, so you should see a UCHealth specialist for a diagnosis. We will take your medical history, perform a physical exam and order any indicated blood and diagnostic tests.
The type of arthritis determines the best treatment for it, which focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function. You may need to try several different treatments, or combinations of treatments, before we determine what works best for you. This can include:
- Medications. This includes painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for rheumatoid arthritis, and biologic response modifiers and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system for other forms of inflammatory arthritis.
- Physical therapy. Can be helpful for some types, as specific exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding the arthritic joints.
- Splints or braces.
When conservative approaches aren’t enough
If conservative measures aren’t working for you, your specialist may recommend surgery, such as:
- Joint repair. We smooth and/or realign the joint, often done arthroscopically.
- Joint fusion. More often used for smaller joints, such as those in the wrist, ankle and fingers. We remove the ends of the two bones in the arthritic joint and lock those ends together into one rigid unit.
- Joint replacement. We remove and replace your joint with an artificial joint, called a prosthesis. We would consider a replacement only after other treatment options have failed to provide pain relief or improvement in function.
Arthritis doesn’t have to hold you back.
Many forms of arthritis are not preventable, but generally you can take steps to help preserve your joint health. If you are obese, you should lose weight to reduce stress on weight-bearing joints like knees and hips and to increase mobility and limit future injury. Regular exercise can keep your joints healthy, especially swimming and yoga. Your health care provider can help you create a joint-healthy plan.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arthritis Types (https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/types.html)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Arthritis (https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/arthritis)
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Arthritis (https://medlineplus.gov/arthritis.html)