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Arthritis

Picture of elderly woman's arthritic hands

What is arthritis?

Arthritis and other rheumatic diseases are characterized by pain, swelling, and limited movement in joints and connective tissues in the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 47 million people in the US have some form of arthritis or chronic joint symptoms.

Arthritis, which literally means inflammation of a joint (where two or more bones meet), actually refers to more than 100 different diseases. Rheumatic diseases include any diseases that cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints or other supportive body structures, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Arthritis and other rheumatic diseases are often mistakenly associated with old age, because osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) occurs more often among elderly persons. However, arthritis and other rheumatic diseases affect people of all ages.

Arthritis is usually chronic, which means that it rarely changes, or it progresses slowly. Specific causes for most forms of arthritis are not yet known.

What are the most common types of arthritis?

The three most prevalent forms of arthritis include the following:

  • osteoarthritis - the most common type of arthritis. It is a chronic disease involving the joints, particularly the weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip, and spine. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the following:
    • destruction of cartilage
    • overgrowth of bone
    • spur formation
    • impaired function

    It occurs in most people as they age, but also may occur in young people as a result of injury or overuse of joints.

  • fibromyalgia - a chronic, widespread pain in muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints throughout the body.
  • rheumatoid arthritis - an inflammatory disease that involves the lining of the joint (synovium) and affects about 1.2 million people in the US. The inflammation often affects the joints of the hands and the feet and tends to occur equally on both sides of the body.
  • Other forms of arthritis, or related disorders, include the following:
    • gout - a result of a defect in body chemistry (such as uric acid in the joint fluid), this painful condition most often attacks small joints, especially the big toe. It can usually be controlled with medication and changes in diet.
    • systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) - a very serious, chronic, autoimmune disorder characterized by periodic episodes of inflammation of and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues, and organs, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, and skin.
    • scleroderma - a very serious disease of the body's connective tissue that causes thickening and hardening of the skin.
    • ankylosing spondylitis - a disease that affects the spine, causing the bones of the spine to grow together.
    • juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) - a form of arthritis in children ages 16 or younger that causes inflammation and stiffness of joints for more than six weeks. Unlike adult rheumatoid arthritis, which is chronic and lasts a lifetime, children often outgrow juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. However, the disease can affect bone development in the growing child.

Rehabilitation for arthritis:

An arthritis rehabilitation program is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending upon the type and severity of the arthritis. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.

The goal of arthritis rehabilitation is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible while improving the overall quality of life - physically, emotionally, and socially. The focus of rehabilitation is on relieving pain and increasing motion in the affected joint(s).

In order to help reach these goals, arthritis rehabilitation programs may include the following:

  • exercises and to control joint pain and swelling
  • exercises to improve mobility (movement) and physical fitness
  • pain management, including the following:
    • heat and cold therapy
    • massage
    • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help relieve pain
    • acupuncture
  • stress management and emotional support
  • joint immobilization and methods to protect the joints from further damage, degeneration, and deformities
  • nutritional counseling to improve weight control
  • use of assistive devices
  • patient and family education

Rehabilitation after joint replacement:

The goal of hip and knee replacement surgery is to improve the function of the joint. Full recovery after joint replacement usually takes about three to six months, depending on the type of surgery, overall health of the patient, and the success of rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation programs after joint replacement may include the following:

  • exercises to improve mobility (movement) and physical fitness
  • gait (walking) retraining
  • pain management
  • nutritional counseling to improve weight control
  • use of assistive devices
  • patient and family education

The arthritis rehabilitation team:

Arthritis rehabilitation programs can be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the arthritis rehabilitation team, including any/all of the following:

  • orthopaedist/orthopaedic surgeon
  • rheumatologist
  • physiatrist
  • internist
  • rehabilitation nurse
  • dietitian
  • physical therapist
  • occupational therapist
  • social worker
  • psychologist/psychiatrist
  • recreational therapist
  • vocational therapist

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

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