Understanding Arthritis

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Arthritis is the leading cause of work disability. With the aging of the U.S. population, the prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis is expected to increase in the coming decades. By the year 2030, an estimated 67 million (25% of the projected total adult population) adults aged 18 years and older will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, compared with the 42.7 million adults in 2002. Two-thirds of those with arthritis will be women. The impact of arthritis on individuals is significant. Almost 38% (16 million) of the 42.7 million adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report limitations in their usual activities due to their arthritis. (1) In addition to activity limitations, 31% (8.2 million) of working age adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report being limited in work activities due to arthritis.

What are some of the symptoms of arthritis? Pain, loss of movement and pain with movement in and around joints are the most common complaints for this debilitating disorder. There are more than 100 diseases in the group known as arthritis-inflammation of a joint.

What causes arthritis? The human skeleton consists of 206 bones. We are actually born with more bones (about 300), but many fuse together as we grow up. These bones support your body and allow you to move. Along with muscles and joints, bones are responsible for you being able to move. You also need joints which provide flexible connections between these bones. Some, such as those in your knees, work like door hinges, enabling you to move back and forth. Still other joints, like the shoulder, enable you to move your arms 360 degrees. In healthy individuals, spacing, cartilage pads, joint capsules and discs between the bones keep them from grinding together and wearing down at the joint site. When this spacing deteriorates, the joints become inflamed and are bone to bone in many cases causing an increase in the incidence of pain. Males and females, young and old can be affected, although medical statistics reveal that the typical arthritis sufferer is overweight, between 65 and 74, and female. Heredity can also play a role. Be sure and thank mom and dad for that! Another cause for arthritis is over use of a joint such as in tennis players, dancers, carpenters swinging a hammer, office workers and many other individuals who repetitively strain joints. Injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents, sports and the like increase the odds of developing arthritis.

Sometimes, it may be difficult to determine whether or not you have arthritis. You should determine if the pain, stiffness and/or swelling of your knees, elbows, hips or other joints you experience is serious enough to warrant medical attention. For example if you develop mild pain following vigorous exercise, that could be a temporary condition relieved by relaxation and a mild, over-the-counter pain reliever. On the other hand, if your joints hurt for more than 7 days, you should see a doctor. Knowing what type of arthritis or other injury or disease you may have is an important step in treating your symptoms.

Arthritis... Osteoarthritis... they are all the same, right? Let's explore that a bit.


Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease of the joints, resulting from a cartilage breakdown. This condition is often called Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). Symptoms can include pain, stiffness and inflammation of the affected joints. It is more common in older individuals; however, young people can be affected as well. Osteoarthritis is especially common in those who have cartilage or joint defects. Women are more commonly affected than are men. Pain occurs most often when joints have been over-used or kept motionless for long periods of time. This type of arthritis is most often related to the demands we have placed on our bodies. Muscles around the joint can contract or weaken and feel stiff. The most common sites of osteoarthritis are the hips, knees, spine, neck, hands and feet. When the knees are affected, the major symptom is pain with motion that disappears with rest. Treatment is geared towards controlling the pain. A physician will typically use X-rays and physical examinations to diagnose osteoarthritis.

(1) Data Source: 2002 National Health Interview Survey, www.fda.gov