Updated 5 June 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Arthritis?Arthritis describes inflammatory changes in one or more joints. It is a broad term used to describe around 100 different conditions which affect the muscles, bones and joints. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare , approximately 3.6 million Australians are affected by arthritis. Women and indigenous people are more likely to be affected by arthritis than men and non-indigenous counterparts. Arthritis can impact a person’s quality of life and how they live daily. Symptoms from arthritis (e.g. pain, difficulties with walking, etc.) can contribute to physical limitations, such as the ability to work, exercise and participate in social gatherings. Such restrictions can lead to other issues, including losing self-confidence, mental health issues and depression.
Types of arthritisThere are approximately 100 different conditions that can be classified as arthritis. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare  shows that osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis make up the most significant proportion of people living with arthritis. Around 2.2 million and 450,000 Australians are affected by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, respectively. Other common types of arthritis include:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Septic arthritis
- Juvenile arthritis
- Seronegative arthritis
Arthritis SymptomsSymptoms of arthritis can vary between different conditions and individuals. Some people may not experience any symptoms, while others may notice more apparent signs. Examples of arthritis symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Warm and redness around the joints
What Causes Arthritis?Causes of arthritis will vary between each different type of condition. For example, osteoarthritis occurs from the cartilage wearing away between the bones. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the surrounding tissues. However, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing arthritis, including:
- Weight (especially those who are overweight and/or obese)
- Previous injury
- Having a family history of arthritic conditions
- Certain types of occupations
Tests and DiagnosisTo help develop a treatment plan, your GP may perform or request specific tests. These tests will assist the doctor with making an accurate diagnosis.
Physical AssessmentYour doctor will perform a physical assessment of the affected joint(s). You may be required to expose the affected area to observe any changes through the joint, such as swelling and redness. The GP may also require you to perform specific movements (e.g. bending, straightening, walking, etc.) to assess the severity of your condition.
ImagingImaging such as X-rays, MRIs and CT scans can be performed to see whether there are any changes to the affected joints. Depending on the chosen scan(s), your GP will be able to see whether there is inflammation, boney spurs and alignment issues to the joint.
Blood TestsYour GP may also request blood tests to diagnose certain forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma . These tests will look for specific indicators in the blood to assist with a diagnosis.
Arthritis TreatmentTreatment for arthritis can vary depending on the diagnosis, severity and the individual’s general health.
Lifestyle ChangesAs noted earlier, certain risk factors are linked to arthritis. Your doctor may be able to suggest lifestyle changes to help limit these risk factors to improve your quality of life, such as:
- Weight loss
- Reduce or stop smoking
- Exercising more
- Improving your diet
PhysiotherapyPhysiotherapists are health professionals who specialise in looking after physical conditions, such as arthritis, strains and tendon injuries. As there is no cure for arthritis, physiotherapy is crucial for assisting with the self-management of the condition. A range of treatment options can help ease the pain, keep the joints mobile and the body active . While most physiotherapists are qualified to manage people with arthritis, some have undergone further training (i.e. the GLAD program). There is a range of treatments that physiotherapists can help assist with the management of arthritic conditions, including:
- Aerobic exercise (e.g. walking program, cycling, etc.)
- Pain management strategies
- Education about managing your arthritis
- Dry needling
MedicationsOver-the-counter or your GP can also recommend prescription medications to help ease symptoms and pain. Depending on the type of arthritis diagnosed, medications can also help limit the condition’s progress.
SpecialistsYour GP can also refer to medical specialists, such as rheumatologists and orthopaedic surgeons. These are doctors who have undergone specialised training for bone and joint conditions. Their advanced knowledge in these areas may assist with additional diagnosis and treatment options.
SurgerySurgery could also present as another option for severe arthritis conditions or those who exhausted other treatments. Examples of procedures that could be recommended include arthroscopes, osteotomies and partial/total joint replacements.
RecoveryThere is no cure for arthritis. However, a significant part of managing arthritis is keeping the body moving, managing the pain and preventing the progression of the disease. More advanced treatment options, such as surgery, should be reserved for those with severe symptoms or if other therapies fail.
ComplicationsIf arthritis is left unmanaged, the condition may continue to advance and lead to more significant symptoms. Increased pain, joint stiffness and weakness can progressively impact the quality of life. The ability to participate in your day-to-day activities can affect your capacity to work, exercise and even walk. This is why early management of arthritis is crucial for long-term outcomes.
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