What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is something that we have all heard of and will all have to deal at some point in our life. But what IS it?
Let’s start with a look at the word itself. Arthritis comes from Greek arthr- which means ‘joint’ and -itis indicating that there’s inflammation. So, arthr-itis literally means ‘inflammation of the joints’. But, as always, there’s more to it than that…
What Happens in Arthritis?
The activities we do every day result in minor injuries (don’t worry, your body does a good repair job every night). Injury to your joints might be due to bad posturing, moving in an awkward way or some kind of jarring or impact.
Inflammation is our bodies’ way of saying something isn’t quite right and that we need to look after that area. So, as with anywhere else, it becomes, red, hot and swollen.
Over time these repetitive inflammations cause a thinning of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. And, sometimes, even a painful polishing of the bone underneath (as I saw on an episode of BBC 2’s Britain’s Biggest Dig recently). Although you can’t see the cartilage itself, the thinning of cartilage can often be seen on x-rays as a reduction in the space between the ends of 2 bones (the ‘joint space’).
As you can imagine, arthritis can mean you feel discomfort, stiffness, swelling and/or pain. This is because the joint has lost some of it’s ability to shock-absorb and provide lubrication. Thankfully, the smaller gap in the joint doesn’t always mean it’s painful. And some people can get away with no symptoms whatsoever.
What Causes Arthritis?
Diseases Causing Arthritis
You’ve probably heard of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)!? People with RA produce an auto-antibody (auto is Greek for ‘self’, antibody = part of your blood which fights ‘foreign’ substances). These auto-antibodies see the cartilage of the joints as foreign and attack it. As a result this arthritis leads to deformities of the joints, especially in the fingers.
A handful of people will suffer with arthritis due to other autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders are where your immune system is fighting your own body. Examples of these diseases are Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE is much easier to say!) or Rheumatic Fever.
Psoriasis can also leads to arthritis in 5-10% of sufferers.
And bacteria can cause inflammation after infecting a joint, usually through open wounds because of trauma or surgery.
But, by far the most common cause of arthritis is…
“Wear & Tear”
Most of us will experience the discomfort of osteoarthritis, especially as we get older. This is because osteoarthritis is simply degeneration from wear and tear of the joints. Just like anything, the more you use it, the more it’s going to wear and start to break down or not work so well.
As with all arthritis’s, just because you have wear and tear does not mean you’ll be in pain. But you may experience stiffness and/or discomfort.
Osteoarthritis is usually in the weight bearing joints (your hips and knees) and other well used joints (like your spine and hands). And, of course you’ll become more aware of this as you get a bit older. :-/
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