Posted by Becky Ness, P.A.-C.
May 16, 2014

Arthritis is one of the most common health problems in the U.S. Millions of Americans have some form of arthritis that leads to pain, stiffness and loss of motion. Many of them are over the age of 65, but people of all ages, including children, can be affected.

Simply put, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness, which typically worsens as you get older. The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is typically caused by normal wear and tear of the joint’s cartilage. If the cartilage is damaged enough over a period of time, it results in bone contacting directly on bone, which can be painful and restrict movement. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by a trauma to the joint, such as a car accident or a sports injury.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissue, specifically the synovial membrane, which is the lining of the joint capsule. It becomes inflamed and swollen, and it can eventually result in erosion of the bone and joint deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but is most common in people over the age of 40. It’s also much more common in women than in men.

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are some effective treatments to help relieve the symptoms. Some of the most common treatments include:

  • Medications
  • Creams/ointments
  • Steroids
  • Heat
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Surgery
  • Canes, walkers

Severe arthritis can dramatically reduce quality of life and make it difficult to do simple daily tasks, such as buttoning a shirt or walking comfortably. The most common joints affected by arthritis are in the hands, feet, knees and hips. But there are things you can do to help prevent arthritis from occurring or getting worse.

  1. Weight loss. If you’re overweight, losing some pounds will take some of the stress off your joints. It may also increase your mobility.
  2. Exercise. Consistent exercise and remaining physically active can help keep your joints flexible and sturdy. Try low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling or low-impact aerobics. They put much less stress on your weight-bearing joints.
  3. Protect your joints. Be mindful to rest your joints. The daily strain of sitting or standing all day, lifting heavy things at work or around the house, and even wearing high heels can cause damage to your joints over time.

If you have concerns about arthritis and the health of your joints, be sure to consult with your health care provider for medical advice.

Becky Ness is a Mayo Clinic Health System physician assistant who practices in the Internal Medicine Department.

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