What is arthritis?

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Arthritis is inflammation of a joint. Symptoms of arthritis may include pain, swelling, redness, warmth, and limitation of movement.

There are over 100 types of arthritis. Three common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

  • Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage that protects and cushions joints breaks down over time. Eventually, the bones—formerly separated by the cartilage—rub against each other, resulting in damage to the tissue and underlying bone and causing painful joint symptoms.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammation of the membranes or tissues lining the joints. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis may destroy the joint tissues, including cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bone, and, in rare but severe cases, may cause organ damage.
  • Gouty arthritis (gout) is an inflammatory joint disease that causes acute pain and swelling. It is a form of arthritis that develops when uric acid crystals form in and around the joints, commonly affecting the big toe joint (this symptom is called podagra). People who have gout may have a very painful attack in one or two joints followed by the total disappearance of all symptoms until the next attack.

Making changes to your home when you have arthritis

Here are some changes you can make in your home that can help you move more easily and with less pain.

  • Use doorknob covers to make opening doors easier.
  • Replace round doorknobs.

    Get doorknobs with levers so that you don't have to use a whole grip to twist the doorknob open. You can just push down on the handle with your hand or even your elbow. This takes the strain off your wrist and fingers.

  • Use a reacher.

    A reacher lets you pick up things off the floor or grab items that are high up in cabinets or closets.

  • Use padded or large-handled tools.

    These tools make objects such as keys, silverware, kitchen pots and pans, combs, and toothbrushes easier to hold.

  • Use electric tools.

    Tools such as electric can openers, blenders, and power tools make it easier to open cans, mix things, or do home repairs.

  • Use higher chairs or seat cushions and tall stools.

    Cushions and higher chairs help you avoid sitting in chairs that are very low and hard to get in and out of. Use a stool for tasks that you would normally do standing up, such as working in the kitchen or wood shop.

  • Make your bathroom safer and easier to use.
    • Use a raised seat on your toilet to make it easier to sit down and stand up.
    • Put in grab bars to help you get in and out of the shower or tub.
    • Use no-slip tape in the bathtub.

    All of these things can also help prevent falls.

  • Use tools to help you get dressed.

    Buttonhooks, long-handled shoehorns, and sock pullers can make getting dressed easier. And use Velcro instead of small buttons or snaps on your clothes.

You can find some of these devices and tools online, in medical supply stores and catalogs, and in local retail and home improvement stores. An occupational therapist can help you make these and other changes to your home.

If you have health insurance, it may help you pay for some of these changes. If you have trouble affording the changes you need, talk to your doctor. They may be able to refer you to programs that can help.

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Steve's story: Coping with arthritis

Steve, 55
Learn how Steve copes with arthritis.
"I wasn't sure about having surgery since I was so young. I had heard that an artificial hip could give out in 10 to 20 years. But when the medicine I was taking stopped working, I figured I had gone as far as I could go with this and decided to go ahead with the surgery. It's a strange feeling to be able to walk without a limp and to walk up and down stairs without grabbing on to the railing."

After being away from sports since his college days, Steve decided it was time to get back in shape and back into the game. Tennis and weight training topped his list of activities to enjoy again. And he did for a while—until arthritis turned his enjoyment into pain.

First signs of pain

Steve first thought something might be wrong when he couldn't make it through a tennis game without feeling pain. He moved around the court just fine. But as soon as he stopped, his left hip would freeze up and hurt. "I would be very stiff, and I would have a hard time walking the next day," he says.

"I thought the stiffness and pain in my hip was just from the stress I was putting on my muscles," Steve says. "But when I changed my exercise routine or stopped working out, the pain was still there. And it was getting worse."

The pain began to interfere with other things in his life. As a teacher, he found it hard to stand and teach all day. "I would have shooting pain up and down my leg and back," he says. "I would have to shift my weight, sit down, or just try to find positions that weren't so painful."

He also found it hard to sleep at night. "The pain would come and go. It wasn't a sharp pain, but a kind of ache that would keep me awake a lot. I could never stay in one position for very long."

Dealing with the pain

For several years, Steve dealt with his pain as best he could, even if that meant he walked with a limp. He would take an over-the-counter pain medicine every day and keep busy to take his mind off the pain.

When Steve couldn't deal with the pain anymore, he went to see a doctor. An X-ray showed that he had arthritis in his hip. Steve's doctor suggested that he have his hip replaced.

Steve was only 46 years old at the time. "I wasn't sure about having surgery since I was so young. I had heard that an artificial hip could give out in 10 to 20 years," he says. "I was worried that I might need to get another one later on. I was also concerned about the risks of having surgery."

Steve decided to wait. He wasn't ready to have the surgery so early in his life. Instead, he started to take a prescription anti-inflammatory medicine to help relieve the pain. It helped for a while.

Time for surgery

"But when the medicine I was taking stopped working, I figured I had gone as far as I could go with this and decided to go ahead with the surgery," Steve says.

At age 55, Steve got a new hip, and he's happy that he did. "I was pretty much pain-free after about a month and a half. It's a strange feeling to be able to walk without a limp and to walk up and down stairs without grabbing onto the railing."

He encourages others who might need surgery to find a doctor they can trust. Steve also says it's important to ask a lot of questions and be clear on the risks and benefits of having the surgery. And, if it's possible, he suggests that people try to relieve the pain with medicine and exercise first, especially if their pain isn't really bad, because it may help for a while.

Even though Steve had to give up playing tennis after his surgery, he's now back to enjoying other activities that once caused him pain. "I could barely make it through a small part of the day," he says. "Now, I can do the things I enjoy again."

Steve's story reflects his experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Steve, to protect his privacy.

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