Characteristic arthritis symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. However, full loss of function and disability can develop in this common debilitating disorder.
Arthritis (osteoarthritis, degenerative arthritis, degenerative joint disease) is the most common disorder affecting the joints. Joint cartilage, bone, and surrounding tissues are typically affected.
The process by which arthritis begins is not fully understood but it forms as a gradual deterioration of the cartilage of the joints in the body. It affects many people of 70 years or older to some degree. Men tend to develop the condition earlier in life than women.
Typically symptoms begin in one or a few joints gradually. Common sites affected early are the knees, fingers, neck, lower back, hips and toes.
After periods of no use a joint may be stiff but usually improves with extended use of the joint. Eventually motion and strength of the joint may become severely impaired.
- joint pain
- joint stiffness
- inability to straighten or bend a joint
- grinding, creaking of joints when moved
- bony growths and enlargement of joints (common at ends and middles of fingers)
- hip, knee joints become unstable, painful to touch (due to stretching of ligaments)
- back pain
- back stiffness
- weakness, numbness in arm or leg (if spinal nerve affected by arthritic vertebrae)
Diagnosis is typically through physical examination and observation of osteoarthritis symptoms. X-ray can help identify arthritis but often it is not able to detect early stages of the disease when damage to the cartilage is not well advanced.
Treatment is typically with physical therapy exercise and stretching regimens, drugs (including pain relievers), joint fluid drainage, and cortisone injection.
Surgical replacement of the affected joint is an option when extensively damaged, painful, and of drastically limited use.