According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 46 million (or roughly 1 in 5) people suffer from arthritis or chronic joint symptoms. Arthritis causes pain, loss of movement and sometimes swelling and is the most common chronic condition. Arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the joints and may affect other parts of the body.
Common causes of arthritis include wear and tear on the bones and joint cartilage, most often when the body has too much weight to support. This can be caused by carrying heavy loads consistently for years but is more commonly a byproduct of being overweight.
- Age - 45 yrs or older
- Gender - majority of sufferers are women
- Certain hereditary conditions including defective cartilage and malformed joints
- Joint injuries caused by physical labor or sports
- Diseases that alter normal structure and function of cartilage
- Metabolic abnormalty
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease and is the most common form of arthritis. Three times as many women suffer from the disease than men. Osteoarthritis occurs when the covering on the ends of bones gradually wears away, becoming frayed and rough. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage to erode away. It typically develops due to many years of use and affects people middle-aged and older. Osteoarthritis targets hands and weight-bearing joints, such as knees, hips, feet and back.
Unlike osteoarthrits, this type of arthritis does not erode the cartilage slowly, rather it inflames the joint (usually many joints at one time) until the joints are ruined. Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in middle aged women, but can affect people of all ages.
Inflammation of the joints can occur when a small granual of sodium urate (related to gout) or calcium phosphorate (related to chondrocalsinosis) gets lodged in the joint. The effect is similar to getting a piece of sand trapped in your eye. It irritates the surrounding inflammation. Middle-aged men are most prone to this sort of arthritis.
- Pain and inflammation
- Pain may develop gradually and feel like a deep ache.
- Swelling and stiffness
- May be worse in the morning and feel better with activity
- Loss of range of motion
- “Sticking” and weakness
- Loose fragments of cartilage and other tissue can cause locking or “sticking."
- Joint may lose strength and buckle or lock.
Outlined below are some of the diagnostic tools that your physician may use to gain insight into your condition and determine the best treatment plan for your condition.
- Medical history: Conducting a detailed medical history helps the doctor better understand the possible causes of your pain which can help outline the most appropriate treatment.
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, your physician will try to pinpoint the source of pain. Simple tests for flexibility and muscle strength may also be conducted.
- X-rays are usually the first step in diagnostic testing methods. X-rays show bones and the space between bones. They are of limited value, however, since they do not show muscles and ligaments.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate highly detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Since X-rays only show bones, MRIs are needed to visualize soft tissues like discs in the spine. This type of imaging is very safe and usually pain-free.
- CT scan/myelogram: A CT scan is similar to an MRI in that it provides diagnostic information about the internal structures of the spine. A myelogram is used to diagnose a bulging disc, tumor, or changes in the bones surrounding the spinal cord or nerves. A local anesthetic is injected into the low back to numb the area. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is then performed. A dye is injected into the spinal canal to reveal where problems lie.
- Electrodiagnostics: Electrical testing of the nerves and spinal cord may be performed as part of a diagnostic workup. These tests, called electromyography (EMG) or somato sensory evoked potentials (SSEP), assist your doctor in understanding how your nerves or spinal cord are affected by your condition.
- Bone scan: Bone imaging is used to detect infection, malignancy, fractures and arthritis in any part of the skeleton. Bone scans are also used for finding lesions for biopsy or excision.
- Injections: Pain-relieving injections can relieve pain and give the physician important information about your problem, as well as provide a bridge therapy.
The type of arthritis present determines the treatment course for arthritis sufferers. Successful treatment is more likely with an accurate diagnosis. Treatments available include injection therapy, splinting, cold pack application, paraffin wax dips, anti-inflammatory medications, immune-altering medications as well as surgical operations.
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