By Riva Preil
Celebrate Arthritis Awareness Month this May with Beyond Basics Physical Therapy! Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder that affects more than 50 million Americans. It can be sub-categorized into many different diseases, including Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and Juvenile Arthritis (JA, an autoimmune disorder among children below age 16). Some misunderstand the disease and think that it involves minor aging related aches and pains. However, arthritis is not something to take lightly- early diagnosis and symptom management is important to slow down the degenerative process and reduce the effects.
OA is the most common type of arthritis, and it is a progressive joint disease that involves degeneration of the articular cartilage. Cartilage is connective tissue that lines and protects joints. It allows fluid, smooth, pain-free movement and prevents bone from rubbing against bone. Impaired cartilage results in joint pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. The risk factors associated with OA include increased age, joint injury or overuse (ex. work involving repetitive motion, such as baseball pitchers or landscapers), genetics, and obesity. In fact, for every pound gained, four pounds of pressure are added to the knees. The added load that the lower extremity joints are forced to withstand contributes to joint breakdown. The common signs and symptoms of OA include joint soreness, especially after periods of overuse (ex. at the end of the day) OR underuse (ex. during the first thirty minutes of the day), decreased coordination and increased pain with walking, and overall stiffness.
RA affects approximately 1.3 million Americans, and is it considered an inflammatory autoimmune disease. For some reason, the body attacks its own synovium, the membrane that lines the joints. This results in a synovial buildup in the joints which causes pain and inflammation throughout the body. It is much more common amongst females, and it is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic components. The common symptoms of RA are joint swelling, warmth, pain, and decreased range of motion throughout the body. As opposed to OA, which primarily affects the weight bearing and overused joints of the body, RA is a systemic inflammatory process that can affect the entire body. Appropriate exercises under the guidance of a skilled physical therapist, weight control, joint protection strategies, and medications can help alleviate symptoms and decrease further damage.