Millions of older adults in the United States suffer from chronic joint pain caused by arthritis, which refers to any inflammation or swelling of one or more joints. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 adults experience severe joint pain related to arthritis. There are more than 100 arthritic conditions that affect the joints, tissues around the joints, and other connective tissues. These different types of arthritis target your joints which can cause pain, inflammation, stiffness, and decreased mobility. While arthritis can be managed in a variety of ways, the first step is identifying the symptoms of arthritis for a faster diagnosis.
What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis?
Joint pain is commonly associated with arthritis. However, it may not occur until arthritis is in its advanced stages. While some symptoms depend on the type of arthritis that has developed, there are a few common symptoms that serve as early warning signs.
- Morning joint stiffness. Joint stiffness at the time of waking can be an early indicator of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis, pain can either last for several minutes or for hours at a time.
- Joint swelling. As arthritis worsens, it’s common to experience swelling in the joints. You may notice that your rings don’t fit over your fingers or that your joints are warm to the touch. Swelling most often occurs occasionally and then lasts for longer periods as the condition progresses.
- Fever. Certain types of arthritis can cause a low-grade fever in addition to joint pain. However, this can also be an indicator of an infection. If you experience this symptom, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
- Numbness and tingling. When our joints become inflamed, they can put pressure on the nerves, which can cause a tingling sensation. Burning sensations within the joints are also common among those with arthritis.
- Chronic fatigue. Fatigue is an early symptom of arthritis that can last a few days or progress to longer periods. Fatigue usually occurs before other more obvious signs of arthritis and happens when joints begin to wear down.
Managing Arthritis Through Exercise, Diet, and Lifestyle Changes
In the early stages of arthritis, everyday activities can become slightly more difficult, especially as stiffness in the joints makes it more challenging to reach, hold, and lift. As arthritis progresses, it can make activities of daily living extremely painful. However, there are some simple ways you can improve arthritis symptoms by implementing small changes each day.
- Exercise. Staying active is one of the best things we can do for our bodies, especially for those suffering from arthritis. Exercise helps strengthen our muscles and bones, which ultimately protect and support our joints.
- Eat a balanced diet. Foods rich in vitamin C, especially fruits and vegetables, are known to help ease arthritis symptoms. Other foods such as whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, lean meats, and healthy oils and fats are equally as important. Inflammatory foods can make arthritis symptoms worse and should be avoided or consumed in small amounts. These foods include sweets, dairy, fats found in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and gluten.
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep allows our bodies to rest and recover from the day’s activities, which is especially important for those with arthritis. Sleep can also be a good way to manage the pain and stress associated with this chronic condition.
- Talk with your doctor. Many adults with an arthritis condition find relief through medications and supplements. Your physician can provide suggestions on which over-the-counter medications might work best for you. Experts also suggest acupuncture and massage treatment as ways to improve function and increase blood flow to the joints.
How to Prevent Arthritis
Arthritis is a common chronic condition among older adults. However, there are some behaviors and characteristics that increase the risk of developing arthritis and making it worse. Some of these risk factors can’t be changed, but others can be reduced by making lifestyle changes. Here are some of the most common risk factors associated with arthritis, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Risk Factors You Can Control
- Weight. Extra weight can put a strain on the joints, especially weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees. Those who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knee compared to those who aren’t overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercise routine can help relieve stress on the joints and lower the risk of developing arthritis.
- Infection and Injuries. Many infections, especially those caused by bacteria and viruses, can infect our joints and cause arthritis to develop. In addition, joint injuries, overuse, and long-term stress on the joints can increase the risk of arthritis later in life.
- Smoking. Cigarettes can increase the risk of developing a type of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis and can make it worse. In addition, those who smoke might find it difficult to stay physically active, which is an important element in managing the condition.
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
- Age. The risk of developing arthritis increases with age.
- Gender. Women are more at risk than men of developing most types of arthritis. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia, while men are more likely to develop gout.
- Genetics. People born with certain genes are more likely to develop certain types of arthritis, although experts don’t know why.
Common Types of Arthritis
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, but some types are more common in older adults than others. While all types of arthritis target the joints, some can present themselves in different ways with different symptoms. Here are the most common forms of arthritis and what you need to know:
- Osteoarthritis (OA). Most often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, this form of arthritis often shows up in the hands, hips, and knees as cartilage in the joint begins to break down and the bone begins to change. OA often develops slowly and gets worse over time, presenting itself through pain, stiffness, and swelling.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Another common type of arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, causing inflammation in the joints of the hands, wrists, and knees. RA can cause chronic pain and lack of balance, and can also affect other tissues throughout the body.
- Gout. This form of arthritis attacks one joint at a time, usually the big toe joint. Gout will often flare up and then go back into periods of remission in which no symptoms are present. However, repeated flares can lead to gouty arthritis, which is a progressive form of arthritis. Gout occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body — causing uric acid crystals to build up in joints, fluids, and tissues in the body — and is caused by certain foods.
Living with Arthritis at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, our high-caliber medical teams are well-positioned to care for and support residents throughout an arthritis diagnosis. Our arthritis treatments include medical support as well as healthy and anti-inflammatory meal options and state-of-the-art exercise equipment. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.