Arthritis is not just a single disease. It is a term used to describe more than 100 different conditions that affect the joints in the body. The word arthritis actually means inflammation of a joint. Almost every animal that can walk is susceptible to this inflammation.
Although many types of arthritis have some common aspects, each type has its own pattern of symptoms and affects different people in different ways.
Two major forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In cases of rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system appears to go awry and attacks healthy parts of the body, particularly the joints. In severe rheumatoid arthritis, the joints become deformed and internal organs are adversely affected.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is also called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. Almost everyone is affected by it to some extent as they grow older. It most frequently occurs in weight-bearing joints, mainly knees, hips and ankles.
This form of arthritis slowly and gradually breaks down the cartilage that covers the ends of each bone in a joint. Normally, cartilage acts as a shock absorber, providing a smooth surface between the bones. But with osteoarthritis, the smooth surface becomes rough and pitted. In advanced stages, it may wear away completely. Without their normal gliding surfaces, the bones grind against one another, causing inflammation, pain and restricted movement. Bone spurs may form.
In osteoarthritis of the knee, the shape of the bone and appearance of the leg may change over the years. Many people become bow-legged or knock-kneed. In osteoarthritis of the hip, the affected leg may appear shorter.
The number-one symptom of osteoarthritis is pain. Irritation and pressure on nerve endings, as well as muscle tension and fatigue, cause the pain. The pain can progress from mild soreness and aching with movement to severe pain, even when resting.
The second symptom is loss of easy movement, such as bending or rising normally. Morning stiffness is a problem for many people. This lack of mobility, in turn, often causes the muscles serving the knee or hip to weaken, and overall body coordination and health may suffer.
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