Do you have simple joint pain or do you have arthritis? Here’s how to tell the difference…
How to find out if your Joint Pain is actually Arthritis?
Do we actually know what arthritis is? Arthritis is not a single disease but a collation of inflammatory joint diseases. Lots of people think that joint pain is part of aging and they never discuss the problem with their doctors. Though association of joint pain with aging is not true, such myths are usually passed on from generation to generation. Arthritis can come with a slow, mild appearance or starts suddenly and cause intense pain over time. The signs and symptoms of arthritis can come and go over time. Generally early signs of arthritis are considered a result of too much activity or an injury. Joint pain, stiffness and swelling are the classic and common early signs of arthritis.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis, also referred to as joint inflammation affects joints, tissues surrounding the joints and other connective tissues. About 200 rheumatoid diseases are described under arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia are other general rheumatoid conditions.
How do I know if I have arthritis?
It is very important to know whether you have arthritis in its early stage because it would be easy to give treatment to avoid permanent damage and pain of the joint. More joints can be saved with early diagnosis. Internal damage to the heart and other organs are the complications if the joint pain or inflammation is left unrecognized. Hence, prompt treatment is necessary to protect your health. People who consider creaking knees, ankles and hips as normal aches and pains might have arthritis.
Though not every sign of joint pain needs special attention, there are certain symptoms which indicate the need for getting diagnosis for arthritis:
Fatigue becomes the most common symptom before any other symptom becomes obvious. Fatigue appears a week or a month before any other symptoms. Appearance of fatigue is not constant. It may appear and disappear from week to week or sometimes day to day. Depression and ill health may accompany the fatigue.
2. Morning stiffness
The earliest sign of arthritis is morning stiffness. The degenerative form of arthritis often exhibits stiffness which lasts for a longer time. Stiffness lasting for several hours is the most general symptom of inflammatory arthritis. Sometimes, stiffness also lasts after a prolonged time of inactivity such as napping or sitting.
3. Joint stiffness
The commonest early symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is joint stiffness. Joints of the hands are the sites where the stiffness usually begins. It might occur in any time of the day irrespective of whether you are active or not active. It gradually affects multiple joints over the course of 1-2days.
4. Joint pain
Prolonged joint stiffness often leads to joint pain in movement or at rest. Both sides of the body are equally affected in joint pain. Pain in knee, ankles, feet and shoulders are other general symptoms which you might experience. Fingers and wrists are the most common sites affected by pain in early rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Minor joint swelling
Joints appearing bigger when compared to normal indicate mild inflammation of the joints. Joints would feel warm when touched. Flare-ups can last for a few days to a few weeks, and can also be expected to increase with time. Sometimes, subsequent flare-ups could be felt on the same joint.
Fever associated with symptoms of joint pain and inflammation is a warning sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
7. Numbness and tingling
Pressure on the nerves is created with the inflammation of the tendons. The carpal tunnel syndrome results with the numbness, burning and tingling in the hands. A squeaking noise in your hands may result when the joints are moved due to the grinding of the damaged cartilage.
8. Decrease in motor function
Deformation of the tendons and ligaments occurs when there is inflammation in your joints. Ability to bend and straighten the joints becomes difficult as the condition progresses. It would be necessary for you to do regular and gentle exercise even though the range of motion is affected.
Early stages of rheumatoid arthritis are also indicated by other early symptoms which include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of sleep
- General weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Breathing problems associated with chest pain
- Hard thuds (is this word correct?)of tissue under the skin of the arms
How are the early symptoms of arthritis diagnosed?
Early diagnosis always helps to maintain function and improve survival by preventing disability. Making diagnosis for arthritis is not always straightforward. Correct diagnosis of the type of arthritis itself makes the treatment for arthritis difficult. Though there are about 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type. Here are some of the diagnostic options which help in early treatment for arthritis.
- Medical history: Medical evaluation usually starts by asking questions related to initial stages of the pain, the level of the pain, occurrence of the stiffness, questions related to recent and past health, health habits and family history of arthritis.
- Physical exam: Physical examination mainly involves the evaluation of the joint where the doctor looks into the visible signs of stiffness, swelling and redness of the joint. Physical evaluation also involves joint count, checking for the symmetrical pattern of the joint and check for the effects on the same joints on both sides.
- Lab tests: Tests involves the level of inflammation, antibodies and general blood count, liver and kidney function tests. Sometimes a genetic test may be suggested.
- Imaging tests: The joint can be visualized with x-ray imaging, MRI or sometimes with an ultrasound. Imaging gives information about the loss of cartilage, inflammation, location and amount of fluid in the joint, positional changes in the joint, tears of soft tissue and presence of loose tissue fragments.
How are the early stages of arthritis treated?
Finding out inflammatory arthritis from the signs helps the doctor to start treatment for the high level of inflammation. Permanent joint damage which occurs in the active uncontrollable disease can be avoided by treating with anti-rheumatic drugs or with corticosteroids. Visible changes in the joint, decreased motion and chronic pain can be easily prevented with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.
At home measures such as resting the joint and protecting the joint from overuse and strain are suggested by the doctor irrespective of whether the treatment has begun or not.
Physiotherapy for Arthritis
Physiotherapy plays an important role in treating arthritis. Here are few ways how a physiotherapist can help in treating arthritis.
- Develop an individualized plan of exercises to improve flexibility, strength, coordination and balance to achieve optimal physical function
- Teach proper posture and body mechanics for common daily activities to relieve pain and improve function
- Focus on proper use of assistive devices such as walkers and canes
- Recommend different treatment options, such as braces and splints to support joints, shoe inserts to relieve stress on the lower extremities, and hot and cold therapy to ease joint pain and stiffness
- Suggest modifications to the environment, such as ergonomic chairs or a cushioned mat so as to relieve pain and improve function
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