Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In Australia, around 3.85 million people have arthritis, this is 18% of the population or 1 in 5 Australians. It can affect people of all ages, including children. The good news is that physiotherapy is often very effective the management of this condition.
Types of arthritis
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It often develops in people who are over 50 years of age. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition. Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness. The cartilage lining of the joint can then thin and tissues within the joint can become more active. This can then lead to swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones gradually erodes, causing bone in the joints to rub together. The joints that are most commonly affected are those in the hands, spine, knees and hips.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 2% of Australians . It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men. Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling. The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape. This can cause the bone and cartilage to break down.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Other types of arthritis and related conditions
- Ankylosing spondylitis – a long-term inflammatory condition that mainly affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine, leading to stiffness. Other problems can include the swelling of tendons, eyes and large joints.
- Cervical spondylosis – also known as degenerative osteoarthritis, cervical spondylitis affects the joints and bones in the neck, which can lead to pain and stiffness.
- Fibromyalgia – causes pain in the body’s muscles, ligaments and tendons.
- Lupus – an autoimmune condition that can affect many different organs and the body’s tissues.
- Gout – a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. This can be left in joints (usually affecting the big toe) but can develop in any joint. It causes intense pain and swelling.
- Psoriatic arthritis – an inflammatory joint condition that can affect people with psoriasis.
- Enteropathic arthritis – a form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the two best-known types being ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. About 1 in 5 people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis will develop enteropathic arthritis. The most common areas affected by inflammation are the peripheral (limb) joints and the spine.
- Reactive arthritis – this can cause inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra (the tube that urine passes through). It develops shortly after an infection of the bowel, genital tract or, less frequently, after a throat infection.
- Secondary arthritis – a type of arthritis that can develop after a joint injury and sometimes occurs many years afterwards.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition that affects people over 50 years of age, where the immune system causes muscle pain, stiffness and joint inflammation.
Symptoms of arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.
This is why it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warm, red skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting
For osteoarthritis, painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are often prescribed alongside a course of physiotherapy. Evidence has shown that regular general exercise, specific strength and conditioning exercise and pain relieving modalities offered by physiotherapy can all help with managing arthritis, please click on links below for more details.
In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:
- arthroplasty (joint replacement)
- arthodesis (joint fusion)
- osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned)
Treatments for Arthritis
There is no full cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition and imporve your quality of life. These include: