September 1st marks the beginning of Arthritis Awareness Month in Canada, a month intended to bring about awareness and educate our communities, while celebrating the individuals who battle this disease each and every day. Over 4 million Canadians identify with an arthritis diagnosis, and the word ‘arthritis’ alone represents over 100 different forms of the disease, so we thought, what better time to really look at the question…
What is Arthritis?
The word, when broken down, means:
arth ∙ itis
‘Arth’ coming from the Greek word ‘arthro’ meaning joint and ‘itis’ a common suffix in medical terminology meaning inflammation. Thus, the word arthritis translates literally to joint inflammation. As previously mentioned, that term acts as an umbrella, including over 100 different types of arthritis diagnoses, all of which fall under two broad categories:
All forms of arthritis, outside of the degenerative osteoarthritis, fall under the ‘inflammatory arthritis’ categorization. Inflammatory arthritis is joint inflammation that typically involves the immune system. The immune system, our body’s defense mechanism to protect us from infection and other danger, can sometimes work against us, mistakenly identifying some of its own tissues as dangerous and attacking them. This causes inflammation of the joint capsule, with symptoms of pain, redness, swelling, joint stiffness, and ultimately, joint damage. Prolonged inflammation to this joint can causes damage resulting in deformity. Inflammatory arthritis’ are typically referred to as ‘systemic’ because, unlike osteoarthritis which can affect one joint and one joint only, the entire body can be affected.
Common types of inflammatory arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Psoriatic Arthritis
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Juvenile Arthritis
Risk factors associated with these forms of the disease can be linked to genetics, as well as different factors for the different individual types, that include other environmental agents. The diagnosis is typically made from obtaining a history and physical exam and then, when indicated for each type, particular lab testing and diagnostic imaging.
Just like diagnosis, treatment is tailored to the individual and the specific disease involved. Patients with inflammatory arthritis are typically followed by rheumatologists, who help patients manage many aspects of their condition.
Osteoarthritis affects more individuals than all the other types of inflammatory arthritis COMBINED! A degenerative condition, frequently referred to as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis, osteoarthritis involves the gradual break down of cartilage in the joint. Cartilage is our ‘cushion’, the connective tissue in-between bones in a joint that acts as a padding that protects the ends of the bone. Cartilage, unlike many bodily tissues, does not have a blood supply that would promote regeneration and so, damage to it cannot be repaired by the body, making osteoarthritis a progressive disease. As it wears away, the bones begin to rub together, causing that inflammatory response and associated symptoms; pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of range of motion of the joint. Osteoarthritis is most prevalent in our weight-bearing joints (knees, hips, spine), but is also commonly seen in hands and feet.
There are several factors associated with the development of osteoarthritis, including age, excess body weight, history of injury, repeated mechanical stress and genetics. There is no single test to diagnosis OA. Often symptoms reported by the patient and a physical examination may help a physician make this diagnosis, as well as diagnostic imaging, as some degrees of OA can be demonstrated on x-ray.
Presently, there is no known ‘cure’ for osteoarthritis. However, many treatment options are available to help an individual manage their symptoms and attempt to stay as active as possible. Depending on the stage of osteoarthritis progression, options include:
- Bracing (including unloading knee braces) for improved stability of the joint and pain management
- Cold Therapy/Cryotherapy units to manage swelling
- Medications, both topical and oral, to manage pain and inflammation
- Physiotherapy and exercise programs
- Injection therapy, including Hyaluronic Acid products
- Surgical intervention (joint replacement)
How Can We Help?
Arthritis is a chronic disease, affecting 1 in 6 Canadians today. The Arthritis and Injury Care Centre is a collaborative practice, with services from a wide range of health professionals who work together to provide individuals with all the treatment options available to help manage their symptoms and achieve their goals. We offer orthopedic and sport medicine consultations, physiotherapy and massage therapy, bracing and cold therapy products, as well as HA injections.
We strive to be with patients on their entire journey and provide them with the education and support they need. We see courageous individuals walk through our doors daily who battle arthritis, in one form or another, each and every day of their lives and we take Arthritis Awareness Month as an opportunity to do everything we can to education our community about all of the resources available to them. If you or a loved one would like more information on how we can help, please contact us for an opportunity to meet with one of our staff today.