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Arthritis Symptoms, Signs, Causes and Treatments

Arthritis is a chronic disease affecting a considerable number of people in the world. Its main symptoms are inflammation and stiffness in the joints, which further cause pain and difficulty moving. Arthritis is known to significantly affect an individual’s quality of life by making it hard to perform simple daily activities.

This article looks into various types of arthritis, their symptoms, and the available treatment options. It’s important to understand arthritis so that it can be detected early and managed effectively.

By Able Health I Medically reviewed by Dr. Alireza Estedlal

Page last reviewed: February 2024 I Next review due: February 2026

Understanding Arthritis: What It is and How It Affects the Body

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition that damages the joints. Joints are sections of the body joining two bones. As you age, your joints may wear out naturally. So, it is common for most people to develop arthritis in their old age due to lifetime wear and tear. Other forms of arthritis develop following an injury or because of particular health conditions.

Arthritis can cause damage to any joint. However, the most common ones include:

  • Knees
  • Hands and wrists
  • Lower back (lumbar spine)
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles and feet
  • Hips
  • The practitioner will recommend certain ways of managing symptoms, such as pain and stiffness. Those who have severe arthritis sooner or later require surgery to replace the damaged joints. You should see a healthcare professional if you have severe joint pains and stiffness that impact your day-to-day activities.

What are the different types of arthritis?

Over 100 different types of arthritis exist, and the most common ones include:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is a wear-and-tear arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: A condition that develops due to the body’s immune system accidentally destroying the joints.
  • Gout: Occurs following an excessive uric acid crystallizing and settling in the joints
  • Ankylosing spondylitis: Arthritis affecting the joints around the lower back.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: A type that develops in individuals with psoriasis.
  • Juvenile arthritis: Arthritis that affects children aged 16 and below.

Based on the kind of arthritis one has, it can wear out the natural tissue in the joint (degeneration) or lead to swelling or inflammation. Some types of the condition cause inflammation that results in degeneration.

Early Warning Signs of Arthritis

Most people with arthritis usually experience early symptoms like:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness that reduces movement range (how far a joint moves)
  • Inflammation (swelling)
  • Discolored skin
  • Affected joints become sensitive or tender to touch
  • Warm or heat feeling around the affected joints

The area in which you experience your symptoms is usually based on the form of arthritis you have and the affected joints. Some cases result in flare-ups or flare symptoms that come and disappear while others cause joint stiffness or pain throughout or after doing physical activities.

The Role of Genetics in Arthritis Development

Genetics can significantly contribute to the occurrence of arthritis. This means that if you have certain genes, your possibility of developing some forms of arthritis is high. For instance; rheumatoid arthritis has been found to be connected with particular genes, which increases the risks.

Genetic testing can help identify these risk factors and provide individuals with valuable information about their predisposition to developing arthritis. Genetic counselling is also available for those who may be at higher risk. Understanding the genetic component of arthritis can help individuals make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and seek appropriate medical care.

Genetic risk factors can be identified through genetic tests, which help reveal important information regarding the development of arthritis. Those with higher predispositions can consider genetic counselling. In general knowing the genetic components associated with arthritis can be helpful in making informed lifestyle decisions and seeking proper medical attention.

The Connection Between Age and Arthritis

Age plays a significant role in the formation and advancement of arthritis. The more you age, the more the wear and tear on the joints. This expose the joints to a higher risk of damage and swelling. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is often linked to aging.

Managing arthritis in older adults requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account their unique needs and challenges. Gentle exercises, such as swimming or tai chi, can help improve joint flexibility and reduce pain. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and making modifications to the living environment can also alleviate symptoms and improve overall quality of life.

Treating arthritis in older people needs an extensive approach that considers everyone’s unique requirements and challenges. Gentle exercises including swimming or tai chi, could assist in enhancing joint flexibility and relieving pain. Also, having a healthy weight and adjusting your living conditions may be beneficial in alleviating symptoms and improving the general quality of life.

How Lifestyle Choices Can Impact Arthritis Symptoms

The choice of your lifestyle, including exercise and diet, may have a great influence on arthritis symptoms. For example, a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help relieve swelling. But a diet full of sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods will only increase arthritis symptoms.

Exercising regularly is also a healthy lifestyle for managing arthritis. You can strengthen the muscles near the joint by walking, swimming or cycling to enhance flexibility. However, you should ensure that you balance between being active and refraining from rigorous activities that excessively strain the joints.


What is the main cause of arthritis?

The leading causes of arthritis often vary based on the type one has:

  • Osteoarthritis: Occurs naturally with age. Spending a lifetime moving around can eventually cause wearing and tearing of the cartilage cushioning on the joints.
  • Gout: Caused by excessive uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia).
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Caused by accidental damage to the joints by your immune system.
  • Viral arthritis: Caused by some viral infections like COVID-19.
  • Idiopathic arthritis: Has no underlying cause or trigger.

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What are the risk factors?

While anybody can get arthritis, some factors are likely to increase the risk. They include the following:

  • Tobacco use: Smokers and users of tobacco products are at a higher risk of arthritis
  • Family history: Having biological family members who have the condition increases a person’s possibility of developing it.
  • Activity level: Individuals who are not regularly physically active are at a higher risk of getting arthritis.
  • Other health conditions: Certain disorders like obesity and autoimmune diseases, which affect the joints, increase the risk of developing arthritis.

People who have higher risks of arthritis include;

  • Persons aged 50 years and above
  • Those assigned female at birth (AFAB)
  • Athletes, particularly those playing contact sports
  • People with physically demanding occupations or doing tasks that stress the joints (for example, standing, bending, or using your knees and hands for long periods)

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose arthritis?

Healthcare providers will perform a physical exam to diagnose arthritis. They will start by examining the affected joint and inquire about the symptoms you’re experiencing. In this case, it’s important to inform your doctor of the onset of symptoms such as stiffness and pain and whether certain activities or times of the day worsen them.

Your provider will also examine the motion range or how far your joints can move. If necessary, they can compare a joint’s movement range to the counterparts like the other ankle, knee, or hand.

Arthritis tests

Your healthcare provider may recommend taking pictures of the joints through imaging tests such as:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan

The captured pictures enable the provider to view the damage in the joints. They can also assist in ruling out other conditions and injuries that may trigger the same symptoms including bone fractures.

Sometimes, blood tests may be recommended to assess uric acid levels, especially if the provider suspects gout arthritis. Blood tests could also help indicate infections and autoimmune disease signs.

The importance of early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis

Managing arthritis can be effective if it is diagnosed and treated early. Early detection increases the chance of preventing more joint damage and relieving pain. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms.

There are different treatment options for arthritis based on the kind and severity of the disease. These may include drugs to relieve pain and inflammation, physical therapy to enhance joint movement and changing lifestyles to manage the symptoms. Sometimes, surgery is done to replace or repair the affected joint.

Management and Treatment

What is arthritis treatment?

Arthritis has no known cure. However, your provider will recommend some treatments to help improve your symptoms. The cause of arthritis, its type, and the affected joints will determine the method of treatment.

Some of the most common treatment options are:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs or acetaminophen.
  • Corticosteroids(anti-inflammatory drugs like cortisone shots.)
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy for improving range of motion, strength, and confidence when walking.
  • Surgery (recommended when other treatments fail to relieve symptoms)

Arthritis surgery

Surgery is usually required if treatment is not working in cases of severe arthritis. There are two types of surgery commonly carried out:joint fusion and joint replacement.

Joint fusion is basically joining bones together through surgery. It is mostly recommended for people with arthritis in their spines (spinal fusion) or ankles (ankle fusion). On the other hand, joint replacement (arthroplasty) involve replacing damaged joints or lost bones with an artificial joint called a prosthesis. The replacement can either be partial or total.

The medical team will inform you of the type of surgery you need and the expectations.

The benefits of physical therapy for arthritis patients

Physical therapy is important when it comes to the management of arthritis symptoms and enhancing joint function. Your physical therapist can offer a customized exercise plan focusing on muscle strengthening around the damaged joints, enhancing flexibility, and relieving pain.

Physical therapy can involve a number of combined exercises, manual treatments, and certain approaches like heat and cold therapy. All these aim to boost joint stability, ease inflammation and improve movement. Regularly going for physical therapy sessions could significantly improve the quality of life of anyone with arthritis.

Alternative therapies for arthritis management

Apart from traditional treatment methods, there are other therapies that can manage arthritis symptoms. These include acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbal supplements.

  • Acupuncture: Needles are inserted into particular sections of the body to activate energy flow and relieve pain.
  • Massage therapy: Helps with muscle relaxation, promotes better circulation and eases joint stiffness.
  • Herbal supplements: Include ginger and turmeric, which contain anti-inflammatory properties that can offer relief.

It is, however, important to understand that alternative therapies do not always provide relief and might not be effective for everyone. For this reason, you should talk to a healthcare provider if you are considering these treatments to make sure they are safe and suitable.


How do I prevent arthritis?

Most types of arthritis occur naturally or are triggered by health conditions one has no control over. Hence, prevention might be impossible. Nevertheless, the likelihood of developing arthritis can be reduced through;

  • Avoiding tobacco and its products
  • Following a healthy diet and exercise plan
  • Doing low-impact exercises
  • Putting on appropriate protective gear whenever you are carrying out strenuous physical activities that might damage the joints.

The role of diet in arthritis prevention and management

Diet plays a significant part in terms of prevention and management of arthritis symptoms. There are specific foods that contain anti-inflammatory components, which may help relieve pain and swelling. Such foods include antioxidants rich fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids present in fish and nuts, and spices such as turmeric.

Similarly, some foods can cause inflammation flares and aggravate symptoms. Examples are sugary drinks, processed foods, and food containing saturated fat. Maintaining a proper balanced diet and avoiding too much intake of inflammatory foods is thus essential.

In addition, people with arthritis should work with registered dietitians as they can offer customized dietary suggestions. They also help develop a meal plan that eases symptoms and supports your overall health.

The Link between Arthritis and Mental Health

Having arthritis can highly affect a person’s mental health. Dealing with chronic pain, limited movement, and hindrances in daily activities can result in frustration, depression, and anxiety feelings. Therefore, it is important to manage the emotional effects and symptoms of arthritis.

To help address the emotional effects, one can indulge in stress-relieving activities like meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. Having supportive groups, friends, and family also gives you a sense of understanding and fitting.

If depression and anxiety feeling tend to be overwhelming, consider seeking professional assistance. This is essential, as mental health specialists can give you guidance and support in dealing with the emotional effects linked to arthritis.

Surgical Options for Advanced Arthritis Cases

For advanced arthritis cases in which traditional treatments aren’t effective, a surgical operation may be recommended. Joint replacement is a common surgery for serious osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The procedure involves replacing affected joints with artificial ones made of plastic or metal.

Another surgical option is joint fusion, which involves fusing bones on either side of the joints together to relieve pain and enhance stability. Arthroscopy is also a minimally invasive surgery that enables visualization and treatment of joint disorders using small cuts.

The medical practitioner will discuss the surgical options to ensure you understand the associated risks, advantages and what to expect. Additionally, post-surgery rehabilitation is vital for optimal healing and long-term achievement.


Arthritis is a complicated condition affecting millions of individuals in the world. Hence, it is important to know the different types of arthritis, its symptoms, and the treatment options available to help manage the disease. Early detection and treatment can greatly enhance the results and relieve symptoms like pain and swelling.

Age, genetics, and lifestyle are all linked to the occurrence of arthritis and its progression. Healthy lifestyle choices like following a balanced diet and exercising regularly can improve general well-being and manage symptoms.

Furthermore, seeking medical advice helps with diagnosis and treatment. Healthcare providers can also provide tailored suggestions depending on a person’s need and assist in navigating the available treatment options. With the proper approach, people with arthritis can live fulfilling lives and have better mobility with less pain.