When we mention arthritis we are usually talking about is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and the major cause of chronic pain and mobility disability in older populations in the U.S. and Canada.
Arthritis can affect any joints in your body, noting the most frequent parts of your body affected include the joints in your hands, hips, knees and spine. However, osteoarthritis typically affects just one joint, though in some cases, such as with finger arthritis, several joints can be affected.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints begins to wear out, and eventually you may be left with bone rubbing on bone. This causes damage to the bones and your joints become quite painful.
Why does it affect some people while not others? The most likely causes for osteoarthritis are thought to be the aging process, being overweight, heredity, muscle weakness and prior injury to a joint.
So what can you do as far as self-managing your osteoarthritis when there is intermittent pain throughout the day, but it still has not limited your daily activities?
• 1. Rest is important when a joint is painful. Usually avoiding excess activity for a day and trying to rest for brief periods of time throughout the day will help alleviate the pain.
• 2. Heat, such as a heating pad or a warm bath, will relieve pain and stiffness in a joint. A warm water bottle or heating pad applied for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day is quite helpful. Remember that it does not need to be hot, just warm.
• 3. Weight loss, even one pound a week, can help reduce the stress put on your weight-bearing joints (knees and hips).
• 4. Exercising, such as walking, biking or swimming, are ways to strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your joints. Of course, avoid exercise when the joint is swollen and tender, and stop if you start having pain.
• 5. Using nonprescription pain creams helps to provide temporary relief from joint pain. Aspirin type creams (salicylate compounds) or capsaicin creams are the most frequently used creams.
• 6. Nonprescription over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) may be helpful for the temporary relief of pain; however, both have side effects if used too long or at greater than recommended doses. You should contact your doctor if daily use of over-the-counter medication has continued for more than two weeks.
So when should you go see your doctor if you think you have arthritis?
1. If you have noticed that your joints appear swollen and stiff, or the pain is persistent for more than two weeks.
2. If you are already taking over-the-counter medications, contact your doctor if you are experiencing side effects such as nausea, constipation or stomach discomfort.