Robert J. Snyder, MD
Arthritis is one of the most common ailments known to man. If you live long enough, more than likely you will experience arthritis in one or more of your joints. I’m often asked by patients “How do I know my pain is caused by arthritis and not because I worked too hard in the yard yesterday?” That’s a great question. Maybe you’re in your forties, fifties or sixties and finding that you just aren’t bouncing back like you used to after a day of heavy activity. I’ll address these concerns in this article.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive condition where the cartilage in a joint begins to wear away. Because the cartilage acts as a cushioning shock absorber and smooth, gliding surface, the loss of it can cause uncomfortable symptoms and lack of function. You cannot have arthritis in the body where there is no joint, for example between your wrist and your elbow or in the middle of your shin. OA is known as “wear and tear’ arthritis and happens to people as they age. Here are five common symptoms:
- Pain – This is the number one symptom of arthritis, along with tenderness on or near the joint. Many people mistake muscle and soft tissue soreness for arthritis, especially after a hard workout or heavy exertion. Sore muscles will heal, given time and rest. Too much rest can actually worsen arthritis, as motion is helpful in keeping the joints healthy and functioning.
- Joint stiffness – While you may experience joint stiffness at any time, OA seems to cause stiffness especially in the morning or after being sedentary, like sitting at a desk or on the sofa for a while. OA stiffness will typically ease after you start moving. Stiffness from too much heavy lifting will usually go away in a day or two.
- Swelling – In a normal joint, synovial fluid provides nourishment to the cartilage and reduces friction when the surfaces of the joint move together. When arthritis flares up, the joint becomes inflamed and irritated. The body will increase production of synovial fluid to try to combat the inflammation. Your joint capsule will expand to accommodate this increased level of fluid, hence the swelling. Even after an extreme workout, sore muscles don’t swell, unless torn or injured.
- Redness – Redness of the skin over and surrounding the joint is an indication of the inflammation within. As a part of the inflammatory response of the body, blood vessels dilate and blood flows more slowly out of the inflamed area, causing a redness to the skin. Typical workouts and activities do not cause the skin around joints to become red and inflamed.
- Decreased Range of Motion – Not only can arthritis make you feel stiff, but you may notice that you can’t bend your joint very far, or that you used to be able to do certain movements, like squat or kneel, that you now find painful. If you’ve worked out too hard, typically you may feel sore and stiff, but those symptoms should resolve in a day or two. For arthritis sufferers, the decreased range of motion can worsen and become permanent. That’s why it is so important to continue activity when you have arthritis and keep yourself moving.
If any of these symptoms are familiar to you, it probably is a good time to schedule a visit with me to get some x-rays and do a complete physical exam. Working together, we can come up with a treatment plan for your arthritis that takes into account your work, hobbies, activity level and plans for the future. There are many ways to successfully manage OA so that you can continue doing what you want to do for a lifetime.
Make an appointment with Dr. Snyder or another OSC provider by clicking the “Request Appointment” button below or by calling (757) 596-1900.