About 23% of adults in the U.S. have arthritis. That’s more than 54 million people that deal with pain and stiffness in the joints every day. The pain can get so bad that it limits the types of jobs some people suffering from the condition can perform or even prevent them from working altogether.
According to the CDC, the condition is responsible for $303.5 billion in medical spending and lost wages every year. With such a widespread impact, it’s crucial to know some of the main types of arthritis and the things you can do at home to help prevent it or lessen the symptoms.
Arthritis Types and Causes
There are two main types of arthritis, and each type damages joints in a different way.
The first type is osteoarthritis. It’s the most common type. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, meaning it gets worse over time. This is the wear and tear that occurs to your joints through the course of your life.
Your joints are formed by a hard, slick coating that’s at the end of your bones. This is called cartilage. It allows your bones to slide without any resistance or friction while still protecting your bones. As you get older and that cartilage gets worn down, your bones start rubbing against each other. The grinding causes pain and inflammation and restricts movement.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another common type. Instead of being a degenerative condition, rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disorder.
For someone that has this condition, their body’s immune system attacks the membrane that protects all of the joint parts. That causes the lining, called the synovial membrane, to become inflamed and swollen. Eventually, it will destroy the cartilage that makes joints function properly and the bone underneath.
At first, rheumatoid arthritis usually affects smaller joints like the ones that connect your fingers to your hands. It will eventually spread to bigger joints like your wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips.
This condition can also impact more than just your joints. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have issues with their eyes, skin, lungs, heart, and kidneys, just to name a few.
While doctors don’t know exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis, they believe your genetic makeup makes you more susceptible to having something like a virus or bacterial infection trigger the disease. Those factors include:
- Your sex
- Family history
- Environmental exposures (like contact with asbestos or silica)
Arthritis Home Remedies
No matter what type of arthritis you might be dealing with, you’re going to have similar types of pain. While doctors will often prescribe medications to help manage that pain, there are several natural remedies you can use to minimize your discomfort. Some of them are more of an instant gratification treatment while others are more about your lifestyle.
Staying active can help you watch your weight. Your weight plays a huge role in agitating your arthritis symptoms. When you’re overweight, you’re putting more stress on your joints, which creates more inflammation.
Making sure you’re getting enough physical activity will help you drop a little weight if you’re overweight, and it can help you build more muscle, which will give your joints more support.
Consider starting a fitness program to help you get active. No matter your age, it’s never too late to add a little more activity to your routine. That could start as simple as getting up and going for a walk every day. You can make it as simple or complex as your situation allows. The important thing is getting that heart rate up a little bit and working those muscles more than you would during your normal day-to-day routine.
Watch What You Eat
Your diet also plays a big part in your weight. If you’re eating an unhealthy diet, you’re going to have some extra pounds and not be getting all of the nutrients your body needs to strengthen joints and muscles.
Aside from the obvious downsides to things like processed foods, you also have to be careful with things you might think are good for you. Foods like red meats can aggravate inflammation. Eating a more plant-based diet can help reduce that inflammation and the pain by association.
Hot and cold therapy
If you’re looking for something that can ease the pain right away, go with the tried and true practice of hot and cold therapy.
Heat can help with stiffness and discomfort. Try taking hot showers or baths in the morning to help get your body moving. You can also try sleeping with a heated blanket so you don’t get too stiff while you’re asleep.
If you’re dealing with some inflammation, try using an ice pack on the problem area. It will help reduce the swelling and numb the pain. Make sure you’re using some kind of gel pack or wrap. You should never put the ice directly on your skin. Don’t leave it on for too long, either. Only apply it for 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
Get a massage
Regular massages can help relieve some pain in your joints and muscles. Experts say massages can help lower your body’s production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, and a neurotransmitter substance that is associated with pain.
Getting massages also increases your body’s output of serotonin. It’s known as the “happy chemical” in your brain because it’s associated with well-being and happiness.
If All Else Fails…
Call your doctor. There are many types of arthritis, so your physician will be able to help you nail down the best course of action for your specific condition. It’s a good thing to bring up during an annual wellness check.
If your symptoms aren’t getting any better and you’re experiencing them for several days in a row, you need to get to the doctor as soon as possible. While it might just seem like a minor issue, not getting the right treatment can cause serious damage much more quickly than you might think.