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What is Arthritis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints which can be caused by a wide variety of things. It is one of the leading causes of mobility issues for people over 50, and it is widespread across all cultures and classes. Arthritis is also ancient: evidence of this condition has even been uncovered in dinosaurs, suggesting that this joint condition is natural, caused simply by wear and tear on the joints as someone (or some creature) ages.

The major feature of arthritis is pain, which can sometimes be severe. The condition may also be accompanied by swelling, tenderness, clubbing around the joint, and stiffness. Sufferers often have trouble moving joints affected by the condition, making it hard for them to move or to use their hands. As many people who have been around the elderly have noted, arthritis often strikes the hands, because the joints in the hands are heavily used throughout one's life, and very old people sometimes have gnarled, clubbed fingers as a result of repeated bouts with it.

One of the most common causes of this condition is degeneration, which can be caused by disease or the natural aging process. Other causes include infection and trauma, especially repeated trauma, and some people develop arthritis due to metabolic changes. It can also flare up in concert with another disease; for example, gout is often linked with arthritis, because the uric acid crystals associated with gout can end up in any joint, not just the big toe.

Some common forms include osteoarthritis, caused by degenerative disease; inflammatory arthritis, caused by inflammation around the joint; septic arthritis, caused by bacterial infection either at the joint or somewhere else in the body; juvenile arthritis, which appears in children and young adults; and rheumatoid arthritis, caused by immune system attacks to the lining of the joints.

There is no cure for this condition, but steps can be taken to treat the symptoms and the underlying problems which may cause it. Various exercises can be used to gently stretch and strengthen the joints, as recommended by a physical therapist, and some medications may be used to bring down the inflammation and treat the pain. If the arthritis is being caused by an underlying health problem, treatment for that condition may help to resolve it; many people also use medicated soaks, massage, and other complementary treatments to deal with the pain and swelling.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Jun 15, 2012

I broke my arm many years ago when I was skiing. I know I have arthritis in that arm because that area is often stiff and I don't have as much range of motion.

This arm really hurts on days that are cold and damp and I know it is from some type of degenerative arthritis in my joints where I had the break.

On another ski trip, I injured my knee and that knee is also the one that gives me troubles. All of my old injuries are coming back to haunt me with arthritis. I don't know why that seems to happen as you age, but those are the areas where I have the most pain and stiffness.

By John57 — On Jun 15, 2012

I don't have any type of rheumatoid arthritis, but have noticed a significant difference in my joints as I have gotten older.

Now I think twice about getting down on the floor for something because it will take me longer to get up. I have also noticed a difference when I am gardening.

It is not as easy to get up and down and do all the bending that is required when you garden. At the end of a long day, my joints are stiff and sore. I have found that soaking in a tub of hot water gives me some relief.

I have joined that group of people who are over 50, and know what it feels like to have joints that are stiff, sore and don't work the way they used to.

By julies — On Jun 14, 2012

I find it interesting that even dinosaurs had problems with arthritis. This is something that is also very common in dogs. Every dog I have ever owned that has made it to old age, has had some form of arthritis.

The larger dogs seems to be affected with this more than the smaller dogs. I had a golden retriever who started having problems with arthritis when she was about 8 years old. It was harder for her to get up and move around.

If she over exerted herself on a walk, she would have a hard time getting up and walking around for a few days. I started giving her a supplement that contained glucosamine which is supposed to help joints that are suffering from arthritis.

This seemed to help her at first, but as she got older, the arthritis was really painful for her. It was hard to watch her suffer and I did everything I could to keep her comfortable and out of pain.

By LisaLou — On Jun 13, 2012

I remember an aunt having rheumatoid arthritis disease. Her fingers were deformed and there were bony nodules on her hands and fingers. It looked like it was painful for her to do anything with her hands.

This was many years ago, and I don't think they had as many medications available to help with this disease as they do today.

Even so, I know that rheumatoid arthritis is very painful and can really affect your daily activities. I have a co-worker who has young kids at home and deals with this disease.

Some days she is really in a lot of pain and it is getting harder and harder for her to get everything done that she needs to. She is on prescription medication for this which helps keep it under control, but she still has a lot of painful days.

By wcnurse — On Feb 17, 2009

How long after a trauma to a joint would expect the gout symptoms to flare? Are there any studies to support your response?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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