Although I know several individuals who experience arthritis pain on a daily basis, it is difficult for me to fully comprehend the depth of the pain and discomfort they are enduring. Sure, I have my occasional aches and pains and things that go “bump” in the night, but I realize that I frequently take my good health for granted, so I decided to pursue a bit of research to give myself a better understanding of what some of my friends and family members have to deal with on a regular basis.
I recall being in the ninth grade and associating with a friendly young girl about my age who had crooked fingers and who complained of frequent pain in that regard. When I inquired of her what was wrong one day, she confided in me that she had arthritis. “Wow!” I thought to myself, as I was certain that arthritis was a disease only attributable to the elderly, like my grandmother. Sadly, it afflicts so many people of varying ages, and I believe it is important to understand what they are experiencing.
Perhaps you are feeling stiffness in your hips, knees, hands and fingers and are beginning to wonder if you have arthritis. How do you know? Should you just assume that such joint pain and tenderness is the direct result of this disease? Is your pain an occasional event or is it more chronic in nature, a daily battle that seems to find you on the defeated end?
Pain in and of itself is just that – pain, and when you are in the eye of that storm, the last thing you can do is accurately articulate the type of pain it is. However, when you visit with your doctor about your aches and pains, she will need a specific explanation so that she can accurately assess your condition. Is your pain consistent and greatly affecting your lifestyle, or is it just an occasional rumbling that temporarily disrupts your day?
Some common signs of osteoarthritis include pain that radiates deep into the joint, pain that improves with rest, pain that is hardly noticeable upon awakening but that tends to worsen throughout the day, pain that extends into your thighs, groin, and hindquarters, pain that affects the manner in which you walk, sit, or stand, noticeable swelling in the joint, inability to move a specific joint as you usually would, the feeling of bones grating or catching on something when the joint moves, pain that impedes your ability to go about your daily business, and, yes, pain that intensifies when it rains.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), another type of arthritis, masks itself in other ways. In fact, you may not even associate some of its symptoms with arthritis. When you experience joint pain on both sides of the body, such as in both feet, both ankles, both wrists, or the fingers on both hands, this could be a sign of RA. Other symptoms include appreciable morning stiffness that continues for about an hour after awakening, weak or aching muscles throughout the body, feelings of fatigue or depression, a loss of weight and diminished appetite, a slight fever, glandular swelling, and soreness in the joints. The pain typically associated with RA can ebb and tide, easing up for a while and then gradually getting worse as opposed to being consistent throughout the day.
Take the common complaint of knee pain, for example. Arthritis of the knee usually affects those in the afternoons of their lives – in their 60s and 70s, but other factors such as weight, level of activity, and individual anatomy of the knee come into play. Arthritis of the knee may be triggered by simple wear and tear or something more serious such as lupus, infection, or a prior injury to the knee. A loss of cartilage is usually the end result, which then leads to that horrible sensation of bone rubbing against bone.
When arthritis affects the knee, it is usually in the form of osteoarthritis wherein the cartilage has worn away. However, RA can affect the knees by allowing the joint to become inflamed and destroying the cartilage. In addition to the joint, the related muscles, tendons, and ligaments are also affected. Additionally, RA more often afflicts people at an early age than osteoarthritis.
As one who suffered a rather traumatic knee injury about four years ago due to a kick-boxing injury, I worry about the long-term effects of such an incident. My meniscus was ripped and my tibia was cracked. Surgical intervention was required and improved my condition 100 percent. In an effort to keep the potential effects of arthritis at bay, I maintain a diligent exercise program that is relatively joint-friendly. I keep my weight in check, and I make note of any changes in mobility, pain, and stiffness, none of which have proven to be an issue yet, and for that I am grateful.
Therefore, when you consult with your physician about your aches and pains, she will most likely present a series of questions in an effort to best determine the cause of your condition. She needs specifics in order to assess if it is related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or some other form of arthritis. Before you meet with your doctor, there are certain descriptive words that can assist her in making a diagnosis. Common words to describe pain include throbbing, aching, sharp, shooting, hot, burning, dull, grinding, or grating. Think in terms of how the pain you are experiencing might relate to one or more of these words.
Be prepared to discuss any other symptoms you may have and what tends to exacerbate them. Some people find it helpful to make notes of when their pain occurs and under what circumstances. Once your doctor has the confidence that she completely understands the source of your aches and pains, she will be in a much better position to formulate a tailored plan of treatment for you so that the only pain you will then feel is the sting in your wallet after you pay your medical bill! I had to say that, you know! After all, laughter is the best medicine!
(Information for this article was found at http://www.everydayhealth.com/arthritis/pain-and-stiffness.aspx and at http://www.arthritis-treatment-and-relief.com/what-does-arthritis-pain-in-knee-feel-like.html)
Reviewed on May 17, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton