Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Arthritis

Understanding Arthritis

What is osteoarthritis?

An elderly man has pain in fingers and handsArthritis is more common than most people realize. It can happen abruptly and slowly spread throughout the body. It is important to be aware of these diseases and how they occur in order to help prevent them.

The common symptoms of arthritis are pain and stiffness generally caused by degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis). Osteoarthritis is a condition that involves the breakdown of joint cartilage. Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that covers the ends of moving bones in joints. It acts as both a shock absorber and a lubricant, protecting your bones from damage and providing smooth, pain-free movement.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis, so it is important to see a specialist to get a diagnosis and find out which treatments are right for you.

Arthritis Pain

As joint cartilage wears away, the bones begin to make painful bone-on-bone contact. The early stages of osteoarthritis can be treated with a variety of conservative, non-surgical treatments. However, as the joint cartilage continues to wear away and the symptoms of osteoarthritis become more severe, surgery may be recommended to correct the damaged bone and cartilage.

To diagnose your condition, an orthopedic surgeon will observe your movement and review your health history. An X-ray of the affected joint will show signs of cartilage wear, and the severity of the cartilage destruction can help determine the best course of treatment.

Often the cause of arthritis is unknown, but osteoarthritis may develop as a result of injury to the joint, excess body weight, or years of wear and tear on the joint cartilage. There is no known cure. The best that doctors can do for patients is to restore motion and reduce pain. Fortunately, total joint replacement has generally proven quite effective at accomplishing these goals.

The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, fingers, and shoulders. Osteoarthritis symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Joint pain while standing or moving
  • Giving out or locking of joint
  • Near constant pain
  • Decreased activity
  • Abnormal stance or walk

There are a number of non-surgical treatments for osteoarthritis. Moderate doctor-prescribed exercise and physical therapy are excellent ways to keep your joints moving and to help relieve moderate joint pain. Joints that are not regularly exercised can become tight and painful.

Excess body weight places extreme pressure on the joints. If you are overweight, your doctor may recommend weight loss to help relieve unwanted stress and pain in your joints.

Descriptions provided by The Arthritis Foundation

Arthritis Pain Relief


Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help control swelling and pain. It is important to consult your doctor before taking medication for joint pain.

Assistive Devices & Rest

Assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, can help reduce the pressure placed on joints and alleviate some pain. Resting after activity can also help control moderate joint pain.

Joint Replacement

The technique of joint replacement uses prosthetic implants to replace the damaged sections of bone and cartilage in the joint. The purpose of the procedure is to restore function and mobility and to provide relief from joint pain.

The most common reason joints are replaced is osteoarthritis, which is the diagnosis in 90% of patients receiving a new joint. However, patients may be candidates for joint replacement if they suffer from any of the following conditions:

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

This is significantly less common than osteoarthritis, affecting 1.3 million Americans, mostly women. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, the cause of which is unknown. The body’s immunological system attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation of the joint lining and subsequent joint damage.

Avascular Necrosis (AVN)

Also known as osteonecrosis, this is a disorder where the blood supply to the bone is compromised, causing weakness and potential bone collapse. Mostly occurring in people between the ages of 30 and 60, AVN most commonly affects alcoholics, people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus, and people ingesting high doses of steroids.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis (PTA)

Injuries to the joint and cartilage which do not fully heal may lead to an arthritic condition.

Paget’s Disease

A disorder whereby bone formation accelerates, creating changes in the shape and strength of the bone.

When to See Your Doctor

Some types of arthritis require prompt diagnosis and treatment. If you have a type of arthritis that can cause permanent joint damage, getting treatment quickly can help preserve joint function and prevent other serious health problems.

Watch for these potential signs and symptoms of arthritis:

  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness in one or more joints
  • Joints that are red or warm to the touch
  • Joint tenderness or stiffness
  • Difficulty moving a joint or doing daily activities
  • Joint symptoms that cause you concern

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Joint symptoms that last three days or more
  • Several episodes of joint symptoms within a month
Joint Replacement Surgery

What is joint replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgery is removing a damaged joint and putting in a new one. Partial or total joint replacement may be suggested as a last resort for the treatment of arthritis. Hips and knees are replaced most often, but other joints including shoulders, fingers, ankles, and elbows may also be replaced.

Joint replacement surgery often vastly improves a patient’s quality of life by restoring function to their joints and alleviating pain and symptoms that were experienced prior to the procedure.

Learn more about joint replacement here.

Interventional Pain Medicine

People with arthritis and related diseases may benefit from the integrative care offered by our Pain Medicine Specialists here at SMOC.

We’re proud to be the home for many Intervential Pain care doctors. Those are James H. Henick, MDDr. Victor Tseng as well as physician assistant Scott Clingan, MSHS, PA-C.

Learn more about our Interventional Pain Specialty here.

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