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Telltale Signs You Have Arthritis

Everything to know about Arthritis and how to help prevent it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering number of Americans are living with arthritis, a painful swelling of the joints that can shorten a lifespan by 10-15 years and in severe cases cause paralysis. "In the United States, 24% of all adults, or 58.5 million people, have arthritis. It is a leading cause of work disability, with annual costs for medical care and lost earnings of $303.5 billion," the CDC states. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Alexander Van Der Ven, orthopedic surgeon at Baptist Health's Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute who explained signs of arthritis and important information to know about the disease. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Types of Arthritis

Doctor checks shoulder joint x-ray image on digital tablet

Dr. Van Der Ven says, "Arthritis in general is broken down into two traditional types, including primary osteoarthritis, which is a breakdown of the surface cartilage of the joints, known as the hyaline cartilage. The other types of arthritis are inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis. There is also post-traumatic arthritis that occurs in individuals who have had an injury such as a major injury, a broken bone, or a malalignment, which can cause a secondary type of arthritis." 


People Who are at Risk for Arthritis

Overweight woman discussing test results with doctor in hospital.

"The origin of osteoarthritis is still poorly understood, however, we believe that the majority is genetic, meaning that it is in our DNA, but not necessarily hereditary," Dr. Van Der Ven states. "We also believe there is an environmental component, such as injury or weight. We know that people who are considered obese have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, not only because of the physiologic weight but also because of the inflammation in their body. For example, individuals who are considered obese, tend to more frequently develop arthritis in their hands, because of the inflammation in their body, which aggravates their susceptibility to the disease. In summary, we think arthritis is 60% genetic and 30% environmental. 

There is one type of arthritis that has been associated with pathogens, and that is Lyme disease. However, that is not osteoarthritis, but a form of arthritis that is caused by the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and stimulates what we think is an auto-immune response to the joint."

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Early Signs of Arthritis

Close Up of a Woman rubbing her hands together with disinfectant

Dr. Van Der Ven explains, "Early signs of arthritis in the hands can be weakness, sometimes clumsiness, or stiffness. People may also find that they need to warm up their hands in the morning for example, which is known as morning stiffness." 

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Late Signs of Arthritis

Senior man sitting on a sofa in the living room at home and touching his knee by the pain.

According to Dr. Van Der Ven, "Other signs can be episodic discomfort or discomfort with prolonged use. Late signs can be major stiffness, pain at rest or pain that can interfere with sleep, and lack of functionality in the joint. However, people often don't get to that point before they seek medical intervention. With arthritis in the lower extremities, like the legs, they will notice a limp or something we call startup pain, when they are sitting for a while and then they get up, they have to warm up that joint to feel comfortable walking. In the inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, people will experience a lot more swelling, constant pain, and discomfort. This will often occur in multiple joints, including the hip, knee, or shoulder. With psoriatic arthritis, people will experience specific types of rashes." 

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How Arthritis is Treated

Happy female physiotherapist giving leg massage to active senior woman in sports center

Dr. Van Der Ven reminds us, "First and foremost, individuals need to get diagnosed by a clinician. The treatments we usually recommend are based on their diagnosis. For the majority of cases which are primary osteoarthritis, we emphasize a healthy and active lifestyle, and weight management or weight loss if needed. We also recommend that patients get involved in an injury prevention program with an athletic trainer or a physical therapist who can recommend exercises to manage arthritic flare-ups. We also sometimes recommend certain types of braces and we may opt for medication management, injections, and even surgery if needed. 

The right type of movement and a variety of physical fitness activities is important to manage arthritis. People who do not use their joints at all will often experience more discomfort than people who use them in an appropriate manner.    

There are alternative treatments, such as stem cell treatments, but those are still investigational and something to consider after trying the more traditional techniques."

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How to Help Prevent Arthritis

woman running in fall

"In general, triggers are use-related," Dr. Van Der Ven says. "It can be an overuse of a joint or an injury or trauma that aggravates the joint, such as a slip or a fall. Other triggers include inflammation, for example, when people are under stress or eating food that causes more inflammation in the body, then it can trigger an arthritic flare-up. Any foods that cause inflammation in the body, can make arthritis worse. In general, animal-based products, such as fish, chicken, or meat, are going to affect arthritis flare-ups more than plant-based foods. The most important thing to remember is that physical activity is important. Rest will not alleviate the pain." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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