May is National Arthritis Awareness Month. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the US, affecting more than 50 million Americans. In Canada, more than 5 million people 12 and older have this disability.

Though the word arthritis means joint inflammation, it is actually used to describe more than 200 conditions and types of rheumatism that affect the joints, the tissues that surround them and other connective tissues. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis you may have heard of include rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and gout.

What can cause arthritis?

  • An infection or injury to the joints that increases the natural breakdown of cartilage tissue.
  • A higher risk because of a family history of the disease.
  • An autoimmune disorder which occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the body.
  • Normal wear and tear on the body.

Symptoms can include joint pain, stiffness and swelling. You may find that your range of motion also decreases.

How can arthritis be treated?

  • Medications such as analgesics (vicodin) or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to control inflammation and pain.
  • Capsaicin or menthol creams to block pain signal from your joints.
  • In the case of hips or knees joint surgery may be necessary to replace your joint with an artificial one.
  • Physical therapy can help strengthen muscles around the affected joint.

At this time, there is no cure, but the symptoms can be treated and managed. Regular exercise is a key component of arthritis management as it keeps your joints flexible. Gentle exercises such as swimming or yoga will help and don’t over exert yourself. Maintain a healthy weight and a diet that includes lots of foods that contain anti-oxidants which help with inflammation.

For information on Arthritis Awareness month and for more resources, click here.