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 Arthritis affects the musculoskeletal system, specifically the joints.

It is the main cause of disability among people over 40-50 years of age in industrialized countries.
The word arthritis comes from the Greek arthron meaning "joint" and the Latin itis meaning "inflammation".
If you feel pain and stiffness in your body, you could have arthritis.
In the majority of cases arthritis causes pain and swelling in the joints.
Eventually a swollen joint can suffer severe damage. In some cases, arthritis can cause problems in the patient's eye, skin or other organs.

What causes arthritis?

In order to better understand what is going on when a person suffers from some form of arthritis, let us look at how a joint works.

Basically, a joint is where one bone moves on another bone. Ligaments hold the two bones together. The ligaments are like elastic bands, while they keep the bones in place your muscles relax or contract to make the joint move.

Cartilage covers the bone surface to stop the two bones from rubbing directly against each other. The covering of cartilage allows the joint to work smoothly and painlessly.

A capsule surrounds the joint. The space within the joint - the joint cavity - has synovial fluid. Synovial fluid nourishes the joint and the cartilage. The synovial fluid is produced by the synovium (synovial membrane) which lines the joint cavity.

If you have arthritis something goes wrong with the joint(s). What goes wrong depends on what type of arthritis you have. It could be that the cartilage is wearing away, a lack of fluid, autoimmunity (your body attacking itself), infection, or a combination of many factors.

Types of arthritis

There are over 100 types of arthritis. Here is a description of some common ones, together with the causes:

With osteoarthritis, the cartilage loses its elasticity. If the cartilage is stiff it becomes damaged more easily. The cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber, will gradually wear away in some areas. As the cartilage becomes damaged tendons and ligaments become stretched, causing pain. Eventually the bones may rub against each other causing very severe pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis
This is an inflammatory form of arthritis. The synovial membrane (synovium) is attacked, resulting in swelling and pain. If left untreated the arthritis can lead to deformity.
Rheumatoid arthritis is significantly more common in women than men and generally strikes when the patient is aged between 40 and 60. However, children and much older people may also be affected.

Infectious arthritis (septic arthritic)
Infectious arthritis is an infection in the synovial fluid and tissues of a joint. It is usually caused by bacteria, but could also be caused by fungi or viruses.
Bacteria, fungi or viruses may spread through the bloodstream from infected tissue nearby, and infect a joint.
Most susceptible people are those who already have some form of arthritis and develop an infection that travels in the bloodstream.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA)
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects a person aged 16 or less. JRA can be various forms of arthritis; it basically means that a child has it.

What are the signs and symptoms of arthritis?
Osteoarthritis of the knee
The most commonly affected joints with osteoarthritis are in the hips, hands, knees and spine.

The symptoms of arthritis depend on the type, for example:


The symptoms of osteoarthritis develop slowly and get worse as time goes by. There is pain in a joint, either during or after use, or after a period of inactivity. There will be tenderness when pressure is applied to the joint. The joint will be stiff, especially first thing in the morning.
The patient may find it harder to use the joint - it loses its flexibility. Some patients experience a grating sensation when they use the joint. Hard lumps, or bone spurs may appear around the joint. In some cases the joint might swell.

The most commonly affected joints are in the hips, hands, knees and spine.

Rheumatoid arthritis

The patient often finds the same joints in each side of the body are painfully swollen, inflamed, and stiff. The fingers, arms, legs and wrists are most commonly affected.
Symptoms are usually worst on waking up in the morning and the stiffness can last for 30 minutes at this time. The joint is tender when touched. Hands may be red and puffy. There may be rheumatoid nodules (bumps of tissue under the skin of the patient's arms).
Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis feel tired most of the time. Weight loss is common.
The smaller joints are usually noticeably affected first. Experts say patients with rheumatoid arthritis have problems with several joints at the same time.
As the arthritis progresses it spreads from the smaller joints in your hands, wrists, ankles and feet to your elbows, knees, hips, neck, shoulders and jaw.

Infectious arthritis
The patient commonly has a fever, joint inflammation and swelling with infectious arthritis. They will feel tenderness and/or a sharp pain. Often these symptoms are linked to an injury or another illness.
Most commonly affected areas are the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger. In the majority of cases just one joint is affected.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
The patient is a child and will experience intermittent fevers which tend to peak in the evening and then suddenly disappear. Appetite will be poor and weight may be lost.
There may be blotchy rashes on arms and legs. Anemia  is also common. The child may limp or have a sore wrist, finger, or knee. A joint may suddenly swell and stay larger than it usually is. The child may experience a stiff neck, hips or some other joint.

Physio therapy and occupational therapy for arthritis

Physical therapy and occupational therapy help maintain joint mobility and range of motion. How much therapy you need, and what kind of therapy will depend on many factors, such as the severity and type of arthritis you have, your age, and your general state of health. This has to be decided by you with your physician and physical or occupational therapist.
People with arthritis will often avoid moving the affected joint because of the pain. A physical therapist can help the patient work out the joint stiffness without damaging it. In order to perform your daily activity the physical therapist will help you achieve a good range of motion. This may involve building strength in the muscles that surround the affected joint - stronger muscles help stabilize a weakened joint. You will also be taught the best way to move from one position to another, as well as learning how to use such walking aids as crutches, a cane or a walker, if you need one.
Physical therapy, apart from significantly improving function and reducing pain, has been shown to delay the need for surgical intervention in advanced cases8.

Living with arthritis
Although arthritis can make daily tasks more difficult and exhausting, there are many techniques and therapies, which added together, can give you a much better quality life, compared to no therapy at all.
It is important that people with arthritis seek medical health and treatment. Although there is no cure for arthritis, there is a lot you can do to minimize its overall effects on your everyday life.
You may wish or have to continue working, and with the right techniques and help from an occupational therapist you may find it is not as daunting as you first thought.
There is a lot you can do to minimize the impact your arthritis might have on family life and raising your children. A person with arthritis will need to remember that being there for the child is much more important than being a super active parent.
If you pace yourself and prioritize you will be surprised at how much you can achieve successfully. Be open with your family members about your arthritis - explain how it affects you so that they recognize when you may need extra understanding and support.