Arthritis Explained

Published by Steve Hedberg on March 16, 2010 Under arthritis

During the process of aging, there are several conditions that can occur, which while not normal, are more common among the elderly. Of these conditions, arthritis is the most common and usually the most well known. Arthritis is a broad term that describes more than a hundred different joint related diseases.

While there are many different types of arthritis, the way they affect the body is similar. Arthritis most often affects the joints, causing pain, discomfort, swelling, and inflammation in and around the affected joints. Often, this will result in deformities or bone growths, most often in the smaller joints, such as the fingers and toes.

Of course, since there are many different types of arthritis, the way they affect the body can vary and many cause complications not directly related to the joints. For instance, Scleroderma is a type of arthritis that affects the joints, but also causes skin problems that are related to Sclerosis, such as thick or scaly skin. In children, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis most often affects the joints, but it can cause problems in their organs as well.

It is safe to say that arthritis is not only a joint disorder, but can affect many other parts of the body. However, of the many types of arthritis, among seniors most reported cases are either Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both share a number of similarities in how the affect the body, but they also have a number of differences. One of the most dramatic differences is that Osteoarthritis is a asymmetrical type of arthritis, where rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical type of arthritis.

Asymmetrical vs Symmetrical Arthritis

The difference between Symmetrical Arthritis and Asymmetrical Arthritis is in the way it affects similar joints.

In a symmetrical arthritis, similar joints on both sides of the body will be affected. So, if a person has arthritis in their right wrist, the arthritis will also be present in their left wrist.

Asymmetrical arthritis, on the other hand, does not affect joints on both sides of the body. So, in the above example, someone with asymmetrical arthritis in their wrist, would not have arthritis in their right wrist.

Living with Arthritis

There is not a cure for arthritis. Despite what you might read on various websites or see on TV, things like magnets or copper do not help reduce arthritis pain and there is no quick fix. Instead, these types of advertisements pray upon the hopes of those with arthritis, selling nothing more than the placebo affect.

Since there is no cure for arthritis and the effects can not be reversed, treatment is instead focused on preventing the disease from getting worse and making life easier to complete the essential activities of daily living(ADL,) as well as the not so essential ones.

Both diet and exercise can be instrumental in helping to control arthritis, as well as helping with other medical conditions, like osteoporosis. Even a small amount of exercise each week has been shown to help reduce arthritis pain, while increase mobility, but it is important to avoid exercises like running. This is because running is a high impact exercise, which puts a lot of stress on the joints. Instead, Low Impact sports, which include walking and water aerobics, should be preformed. Water sports are often the best choice for seniors and most pools offer a water aerobics program that can help teach some of the basics and provide a regime to follow.

Learning to preform the essential ADL, without aggravating the symptoms of arthritis, is also important. Generally, this involves identifying tasks that may be difficult for the senior to preform and then brainstorming ways to make them easier. Sometimes, this may involve using helper tools, such as lift chairs, walkers, or kitchen utensils with larger handles, but it can also involve simply finding an easier way of doing something. For example, many people find that it is difficult to use a rolling pin with arthritis. One way to address this would be to use the palms of the hands on top of the rolling pin, instead of trying to grasp the small handles. This is discussed in more detail in our ADL Problem Solving Steps section, with this often being a process that is more personal and customized based on the needs and abilities of the user.

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