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Causes of arthritis and options for relief

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Arthritis affects nearly 30 million Americans and can cause serious pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate some of the symptoms.


Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain and stiffness. This discomfort tends to be greater in the morning or after a period of inactivity.


In a normal joint, there is cartilage between the bones to serve as a sort of shock absorber, allowing the bones to move freely past each other as the joint is bent and straightened. The synovial membrane secretes a fluid that lubricates the joint and keeps the cartilage healthy. With arthritis, one of these is not functioning properly.


The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage between bones in a joint wears away, letting bone rub against bone. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the synovial membrane becomes inflamed, which can cause pain and swelling.


Certain factors increase the risk of developing arthritis. Some types are hereditary, so family history increases risk. Also, the older a person is, the higher the risk. Women are more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men. Previous joint injury can lead to arthritis in the affected joint. Obese people, who carry a large amount of extra weight, put added stress on joints, increasing their risk for arthritis.


Although medications may reduce symptoms, there are also lifestyle changes that help. Applying hot or cold packs sometimes helps. Losing excess weight in someone who is obese relieves the joints of the extra burden those pounds cause. And exercise can help keep joints flexible and lower discomfort.


Different types of exercise work best for different kinds of arthritis. For osteoarthritis, water aerobics, swimming and muscle-strengthening exercises keep joints flexible and let muscles properly help the body’s structure. For rheumatoid arthritis, it helps to carefully move each joint through its full range of motion each day. Move arthritic joints periodically throughout the day, and change positions when resting to avoid stiffness.


Before starting any new exercise routine, consult your health care team.


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Last Updated 01/30/2012