Arthritis: Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatments

Arthritis: Understand the symptoms, causes, and effective treatments available for managing this chronic joint condition, from medication to lifestyle changes.

Arthritis is a chronic condition that causes pain, swelling, and limited movement in the joints. It affects millions in the U.S.1 The two main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis comes from the wear and tear on joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is when the body’s immune system attacks the joints.1 Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and redness. You might also feel stiff and have trouble moving.1 Age, gender, your genes, being overweight, and past joint injuries make you more likely to get it.1

Doctors diagnose arthritis with physical exams, blood tests, and pictures of your joints.1 Treatment’s goal is to make you hurt less, reduce swelling, and keep your joints working well. They use drugs, other treatments, and sometimes do operations.1

Key Takeaways

  • Arthritis is a common chronic condition that affects millions of people in the United States.
  • The two most prevalent forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, each with distinct underlying causes.
  • Arthritis symptoms include joint pain, swelling, redness, stiffness, and limited mobility.
  • Risk factors for arthritis include age, gender, genetics, excess weight, and joint injuries.
  • Diagnosis involves a combination of physical exams, blood tests, and imaging scans.
  • Treatment aims to reduce pain and inflammation and maintain joint function, using medications, non-pharmacological therapies, and sometimes surgery.
  • A multidisciplinary approach to treatment, involving various healthcare providers, can benefit those living with arthritis.

Understanding Arthritis

Arthritis covers more than 100 joint diseases and conditions.2 The main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis happens when the joint cartilage wears down over time.3 It can cause bones to rub against each other, creating spurs and making joints work poorly. Rheumatoid arthritis is different; it’s when the immune system attacks joints, leading to pain and swelling.4 There are also other forms like gout, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis. Each has its causes and effects.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis means joint inflammation and disease.2 It’s ongoing and can happen to anyone, but it’s usually seen in the elderly.4 It causes joints to be painful, stiff, and harder to move.

Types of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types.2 Osteoarthritis breaks down the cushioning between bones.3 Rheumatoid arthritis is when your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints.4 There are also less common types like gout and psoriatic arthritis.


Osteoarthritis mainly affects joint cartilage.3 It’s known as the “wear and tear” type and often happens slowly.2 It affects areas such as the hands and knees.3 Things like getting older, being overweight, joint injuries, and family history can make it more likely.4

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis attacks the joints because of a faulty immune system.4 It can hit any joint but is often first noticed in the hands, wrists, and knees.2 It’s not about wear and tear; it’s an inflammatory disease that can harm joints for good.3

Symptoms of Arthritis

Arthritis is a tough condition that brings a lot of pain and problems.5 It makes joints hurt, swell, and get red. It also makes moving around hard because joints get stiff.5

Joint Pain

Arthritis brings horrible joint pain.5 This pain varies from light discomfort to severe. It gets worse when you move. Those with arthritis might feel sharp, dull, or aching pain. This can make simple tasks very tough.5

Swelling and Redness

Many types of arthritis cause swelling and redness.5 The joints look bigger and feel hot. This is a sign that they’re inflamed. The inflammation adds to the pain.5

Stiffness and Limited Mobility

In the morning or after resting, moving can be hard.5 Arthritis makes joints stiff, reducing how far they move. This can keep people from doing what they want. It lowers their freedom and happiness.5

Arthritis is a big issue for many in the U.S.5 It’s important to know how to deal with its symptoms for those who have it.5

arthritis symptoms

Causes of Arthritis

The reasons behind arthritis vary based on the type.4 For example, osteoarthritis mainly comes from the daily wearing down of joint cartilage. This can get worse from joint injuries or using them too much.4 Compared to that, rheumatoid arthritis and similar kinds happen when the immune system attacks the joints by mistake, causing swelling.

Wear and Tear on Joints

Osteoarthritis is the most common kind. It happens as joint cartilage naturally wears out with time.4 This wear can come slowly as you get older or quickly from injuries or doing the same motions a lot. Joints without enough protective cartilage feel more friction, grow bone spurs, and don’t work as they should.

Autoimmune Disorders

Rheumatoid arthritis and other types like it start when the immune system hurts the joints.4 This causes ongoing swelling, pain, and can harm the cartilage and bone inside the joint. We aren’t sure what exactly causes the immune system to act this way, but genes and some environmental things might be part of it.

Genetic Factors

Some people might have a higher risk of getting certain types of arthritis because of their genes.4 Arthritis like ankylosing spondylitis can often be found in families. But having these genes doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get arthritis. It just means you might be more at risk for certain types.

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Risk Factors for Arthritis

Arthritis is a complex condition with many risk factors. These include age, gender, genetics, weight, and past joint injuries. It’s important to know these risks to find those more likely and help prevent arthritis.


As you get older, the chances of arthritis increase. The wear on your joints over the years makes arthritis more common in older people. But remember, it can happen at any age.6


Women are more at risk than men for certain types of arthritis. For instance, women get rheumatoid arthritis more often.7


Your genes play a part in arthritis too. If a family member has rheumatoid arthritis, your risk is a bit higher.7 Some genes, like the shared epitope, may raise the risk for rheumatoid arthritis. But, how exactly they do this is still being studied.7


Extra weight stresses your joints more, especially hips and knees. This stress raises the risk of osteoarthritis.6 Also, being obese can make RA symptoms worse. It may lead to less effective treatment.7

Joint Injuries

Having hurt a joint before can make arthritis more likely in that spot.6 Jobs or sports with a lot of repetitive motions can also cause joint injuries. They may lead to osteoarthritis in those joints with time.6

arthritis risk factors

Diagnosing Arthritis

Diagnosing arthritis includes a physical exam, lab tests, and imaging.8 The doctor will check the joints for swelling, redness, and movement.9 Blood tests look for inflammation markers. These include sedimentation rate or rheumatoid factor, showing certain arthritis types.10 X-rays and other scans show joint damage. They find issues like cartilage loss and bone spurs.8

Physical Examination

The exam is key for diagnosing arthritis. The doctor inspects your joints for signs like swelling and warmth. They also see how well you can move the joint. This helps tell what arthritis type you might have.9

Blood Tests

Blood tests can find signs of inflammation linked with arthritis.10 They look for things like the rheumatoid factor and C-reactive protein. These tests can distinguish between different types of arthritis. They also help plan the right treatment.8

Imaging Tests

Imaging is vital for diagnosing arthritis. X-rays show joint damage. This can be cartilage loss or bone spurs. They help see the issue clearly.8 CT scans and MRIs give detailed joint pictures. Ultrasounds can also help. They all aid in pinpointing the arthritis type and its extent.8

Sometimes, the doctor takes joint fluid for more testing.8 This in-depth exam finds crystals or infections. It helps in choosing the best treatment strategy for your specific arthritis type.

Medications for Arthritis

Arthritis treatment relies heavily on medications. They fight pain, inflammation, and slow disease growth.11 Drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen, known as NSAIDs, reduce joint pain and swelling. However, they can raise the risk of heart issues or stomach bleeds.12 Tylenol is also a go-to because it’s gentler on the heart and stomach.11


Prednisone is a strong drug that fights inflammation. You can take it by mouth or inject it into your sore joints.12 Injections work fast but might cause infections or change the skin.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

Autoimmune types of arthritis call for DMARDs. Drugs like methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine slow the disease.11 Methotrexate is often the first choice for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).11 Since they work slowly, it can take weeks or months to see results.11 Biologics, another type, work differently in each person.11 They may lose their effect over time. Options such as anti-TNFs and interleukin inhibitors target specific parts of inflammation.11 JAK inhibitors are pills used for some arthritis types.11 Then there are PDE 4 inhibitors, another kind of DMARD. They don’t make severe infections more likely.11

The treatment plan is different for everyone, depending on their arthritis type.8 NSAIDs, counterirritants, steroids, and DMARDs are often part of the treatment.8

Non-Pharmacological Treatments

Aside from medicines, non-medical treatments can also help with arthritis. They aid in easing symptoms and keeping joints working well.13

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy uses exercises to make your joints move better, make muscles around them stronger, and boost how flexible you are.13

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy makes it easier for you to live and work in ways that don’t strain your joints too much.13

Heat and Cold Therapy

Heat from warm baths or heating pads can make your muscles calm and increase blood flow to your sore joints.13

Cold therapy with ice packs can lower swelling and dull pain.13

Assistive Devices

Using devices like canes, walkers, or braces can lessen the strain on your joints and help you move better.13

Surgical Interventions for Arthritis

When you’ve tried everything else for arthritis and it’s still bad, surgery might be the next step.14 Forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and others fall into this.14 People today usually don’t reach a point where many joints are affected thanks to better treatments. Instead, they often face arthritis in just one to three joints.

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Joint Repair

A surgery to repair a joint can help. It makes the joint work better for some.15 But, in some cases, surgery is found not to be better than pretending to do surgery. This is from studying many people.15 For certain men under 50 who are big or have tough jobs, surgery to repair the hip is advised.

Joint Replacement

14 At the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), they use a group of experts to handle arthritis patients needing surgery. This includes doctors, therapists, social workers, and more.14 Surgery options for arthritis might involve removing the joint lining, replacing the joint, or fusing it. Which one is best depends on the person and their situation.15 Younger people often get their joints completely replaced. This has become more common and successful over time.

Joint Fusion

15 A surgery called osteotomy can put off the need for joint replacement. It might be a good choice for younger patients.14 In treating inflammatory arthritis, surgeons sometimes cut out part of the joint lining to ease pain and reduce swelling. It can be done with open surgery or with a tiny camera called arthroscopy.15 Cutting the joint lining openly can be risky. Using the camera for the surgery can have fewer problems.

15 Fixing a replaced joint is harder than the first time and can cause fractures.16 Joint fusion, where bones are joined with metal, can make the joint good for life with care. Sometimes, this surgery needs to be done again.

It takes a few months to fully recover from these surgeries. But, getting better often involves working with a physical therapist closely.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Some patients try different treatments alongside usual medicines to manage arthritis. For instance, acupuncture uses thin needles on the body. It might lessen pain for some people [arthritis alternative treatments, acupuncture]17.
Some dietary supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can help a bit with osteoarthritis. But proof is not clear [arthritis alternative treatments, glucosamine, chondroitin]18.
Taking fish oil may reduce swelling [arthritis alternative treatments, fish oil]17.

Activities like yoga, tai chi, and meditation can make your body more flexible and stronger. They can also lower stress, which often makes arthritis pain worse [arthritis alternative treatments, mind-body therapy]18.
These methods work well alongside regular treatments. They bring extra comfort to those dealing with arthritis [arthritis alternative treatments]191718. Tai chi, for example, is known to cut down pain and boost physical ability in people with osteoarthritis [arthritis alternative treatments]19]. Tai Chi Qigong improved life quality and reduced pain in those with knee osteoarthritis [arthritis alternative treatments]19.

Living with Arthritis

Lifestyle habits play a big role in managing arthritis. It’s important to stay at a healthy weight. This reduces pressure on joints, especially in the hips and knees. Losing weight can ease arthritis symptoms by lessening joint strain.20 It also improves joint movement and lowers the risk of injury.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Exercising regularly can lessen arthritis pain and improve joint function. It also increases muscle strength and energy levels.21 Choose low-impact activities like walking or swimming to protect your joints.22 It’s vital to get advice from a doctor on the best exercises for you. Steer clear of activities that could harm your joints, such as running or tennis.22

Joint Protection Strategies

Make daily tasks easier to manage by keeping items nearby and using special tools.21 Occupational therapy offers great advice on how to stay independent. This includes choosing the right tools for daily life. For kids with arthritis, staying at a healthy weight and being active are important to avoid joint strain.21

Stress Management

22 Staying positive and doing things you love can make a big difference in how you feel.22 Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture can also help. So can using heat or cold on sore joints, and massage.

Arthritis in Children

Arthritis isn’t just for older adults. It can affect children and teens too. The common type in kids is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). This is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain and swelling.23

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is common in children below 16.23 Its symptoms can last from months to years. Sometimes, it brings serious issues like growth problems, damage to joints, and swelling in the eyes.23 JIA has different types that may involve one or many joints.23 It’s also seen more often in girls.23

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing JIA requires a thorough checkup, lab tests, and imaging. This is to exclude other reasons for the joint problems. Treatment includes drugs, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery. It’s key to manage JIA well to prevent its effects on a child’s growth and development.24

Impact on Growth and Development

JIA can really affect a child’s growth and development. It might cause issues like not growing as they should or damaging their joints.23 Early and full-on treatment helps kids with arthritis keep their joints working, be active, and not end up with long-term problems.24

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Arthritis and Comorbidities

Arthritis doesn’t come alone. It’s often linked to other health issues. This can worse a person’s well-being. People with25 inflammatory arthritis are more at risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. They face twice the chances compared to others without this kind of arthritis. Arthritis also raises the odds of getting25 diabetes,25 osteoporosis, and25 COPD, especially for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Cardiovascular Disease

The connection between arthritis and heart problems is due to similar inflammation pathways.25 Those with inflammatory arthritis are 1.5 times more likely to get diabetes than those without.25 About 60-70% of people with diabetes also get some form of neuropathy, usually peripheral neuropathy.

Depression and Anxiety

Arthritis causes chronic pain and disability. This can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety.25 It’s also linked to vision issues, hearing loss, and depression.


Being overweight makes arthritis worse. It increases joint pain and stiffness. Plus, it raises the risk of more health issues.26 Nationally, 21% of adults have arthritis. And over 42% of them are also obese.26 Adults with both arthritis and heart disease, diabetes, or obesity tend to be less active than those with just one or none of these conditions.

Moving more, whether through aerobic exercise or strength training, helps. It’s good for those with arthritis and its related health problems.

Treating all these related conditions is key. It can make the lives of arthritis patients better.


Arthritis is a complicated condition that affects many people globally. It’s important to get the right information about its types, causes, and treatments. This knowledge is key to making a good plan to deal with it.27

There are different ways to help manage arthritis, like using medications. Non-medicine treatments and sometimes, surgery, can also be helpful. They aim to lower pain, keep the joints working well, and make life better for those with arthritis.28

Living a healthy life is also crucial. This means keeping your weight in check, exercising, and finding ways to lower stress. These steps can help a lot in dealing with arthritis.28

By working with doctors and being well-informed, those with arthritis can greatly improve their condition. They can lead a fulfilling life and manage their arthritis effectively.28


What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a common chronic condition. It causes pain, swelling, and limits movement. This happens in the joints and connective tissues. Millions of people in the United States suffer from it.

What are the most common types of arthritis?

The two common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis comes from joint wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It causes joint inflammation.

What are the main symptoms of arthritis?

The key symptoms are joint pain, swelling, and redness. You may also feel stiffness that limits how you move.

What causes arthritis?

The cause depends on the type. Osteoarthritis comes from joint cartilage breaking down. Autoimmune types, like rheumatoid arthritis, happen when the immune system attacks the joints.

What are the risk factors for developing arthritis?

Several factors increase the risk, such as age and genetics. Excess weight and old joint injuries are also risk factors.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Doctors use a physical exam, lab tests, and imaging. This includes X-rays, CT scans, and MRI. These help in diagnosing arthritis.

What medications are used to treat arthritis?

There are various drugs for arthritis. This includes NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and DMARDs for autoimmune types.

What non-pharmacological treatments are available for arthritis?

Non-drug treatments are also available. They include physical and occupational therapy. Heat and cold therapy, plus assistive devices, help too.

When are surgical interventions considered for arthritis?

Surgery might be needed for severe cases. Joint repair, replacement, and fusion are options. This is when other treatments don’t work well.

What alternative and complementary therapies can be used for arthritis?

Acupuncture, dietary supplements, and practices like yoga are helpful. They can supplement medical treatments for arthritis.

How can lifestyle habits impact arthritis?

Healthy habits are key in managing arthritis. These include maintaining a healthy weight, gentle exercise, and stress management. They can help with symptoms and slow down the condition.

Can children develop arthritis?

Yes, children can get arthritis. It’s called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). It needs early and full treatment to keep joints working well and prevent disabilities.

How does arthritis affect overall health?

Arthritis often links to other health problems. These include heart issues, depression, and obesity. These can affect a person’s total well-being.

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