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Arthritis

Introduction

Arthritis is a form of joint disorder that involves painful inflammation and stiffness of the joint.  There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, but two of the most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Anatomy

Arthritis is a disease of the joint, and a joint is where the ends of two or more bones meet.  Arthritis can be found in any joint in the body.

Causes

The two main types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, damage joints in different ways.  The first type, osteoarthritis, is the most common type and it involves wear and tear damage to your joint’s cartilage which is the hard coating on the ends of your bones.  Enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement.  In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts.  This lining, known as the synovial membrane, becomes inflamed and swollen.  The disease process can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.

Symptoms

Regardless of the type of arthritis, the common symptoms for all arthritis disorders include varied levels of pain, swelling, joint stiffness, and sometimes a constant ache around the joint.  For other more specific arthritic disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, you may experience other symptoms such as inability to walk, weight loss, loss of sleep, and a feeling of tiredness.

Diagnosis

Arthritis is diagnosed through a careful evaluation of symptoms and a physical examination.  X-rays are important to show the extent of any damage to the joint.  Blood tests and other laboratory tests may help to determine the type of arthritis.

Treatment

Physical therapists can provide exercises designed to preserve the mobility, strength, and use of your joints.  Your therapist will teach you the proper body mechanics to move from one position to another and also proper posture to protect the integrity of the joints.  He or she will educate you on the use of walking aids such as crutches, a walker, or a cane when needed.  Therapy should be started early in order to reduce painful symptoms of inflammation, prevent deformity and permanent joint stiffness, and maintain strength in the surrounding muscles.  When pain and swelling are better controlled, treatment plans may include exercises to increase range of motion, and to improve muscle strength and endurance.

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