Arthritis is a very common condition. Here is a little information to explain what it is and suggestions for managing the early symptoms.

What is arthritis?

All joints in the body have a layer of cartilage over the weight bearing surface of the bone. Arthritis is thinning of this layer of cartilage to a greater or lesser extent. It is related to pain, stiffness and reduce movement of the joint. It can have a variety of causes, the most common of which is known as osteoarthritis.

As arthritis progresses the bone beneath the thinning layer of cartilage can also become affected. The bone at the edge of your joint grows outwards, forming bony spurs called osteophytes. Sometimes fluid collects in the joint causing swelling. Occasionally, if the arthritis becomes severe, deformity may occur causing bowed legs or knocked knees. Joints may feel unstable and give way risking falls.

Symptoms from arthritis can vary, you may find that you have good days and bad days. This can be related to activity levels or even the weather.

What causes arthritis?

There are many causes, here are just a few;

  • Age, late 40s or older
  • Being female
  • Being overweight, particularly in arthritis of the knee
  • Relatives who have had arthritis
  • You’ve had an  injury, for example a torn meniscus in the knee
  • Previous surgery, for example a meniscectomy (to remove damaged cartilage) or repairs to your cruciate ligaments
  •  Repetitive activity or a physically demanding job
  • Other medical conditions affecting your joints e.g gout

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Listening to the symptoms that you might be experiencing and a careful examination of the painful joint are essential. Once examined most arthritis can be diagnosed with an X-ray. Occasionally an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan might be organised too.

How can I help myself?

Exercise is essential both to maintain movement of the joint to combat stiffness and to strengthen the muscles around the joint to support it. A physiotherapist can help advise on the best exercise to do.

Weight loss has a large part to play for many people. This is particularly effective in arthritis of the knees.

Regular pain relief can be helpful, something simple such as paracetamol in the first instance. Some people find anti-inflammatory gels rubbed into the skin over a joint also to be effective.

These measures should always have been tried and failed to manage the symptoms of arthritis before joint replacement surgery is considered