With more than 150 types of arthritis already discovered, it is essential to define and divide these hundreds of types into two main categories for the sake of understanding and better treatment and symptom control. These two categories include:
What is degenerative arthritis?
For your understanding, you must know that cartilage is the tough elastic material that covers and protects the ends of bones. In healthy joints, cartilage acts as a shock absorber when you put weight on the joint. The slippery surface of the cartilage also allows the joints to move smoothly. When a joint degenerates, the cartilage gradually becomes rough, begins to wear away, and the bone underneath thickens. With this degeneration, the joint, may in fact, become inflamed with pain, warmth, and swelling.
Although we see signs of inflammation in degenerating joints they are not considered to be “inflammatory” because the cause of the inflammation is the degeneration itself. Degenerative arthritis tends to affect the joint at the base of the thumb, the end and or middle joints of the fingers, the hips, the knees, and the joints at the base of the big toe. Most people notice degenerative arthritis as they get into their 40’s or 50’s, however, in some people it can start earlier. A person with degenerative joint disease may notice some stiffness of the affected joint in the morning lasting about 15-20 minutes. As the day progresses and they use the joint the pain and discomfort typically increases and improves with rest.
What is inflammatory arthritis?
In your body, each joint is lined by a thin layer of tissue called synovium. The synovium is responsible for making small amounts of fluid to keep the normal joint lubricated. In cases of inflammatory arthritis, for some reason the body’s immune system becomes confused and begins to attack the synovium. Chemicals released by the body’s immune system cause swelling, pain, and stiffness of the joints and can eventually damage or destroy the cartilage and bone. Inflammatory arthritis can affect any joint in the body.
The more common joints involved tend to be the small joints of the hands and feet. Inflammatory arthritis can begin in a number of different ways. The most common way is a slow onset of joint pain and stiffness starting in one joint and spreading to involve more joints over a period of weeks to months. It can also start very dramatically (almost overnight) or can start slowly with pain in joints that seems to “jump around” from joint to joint.
Inflammatory arthritis causes aching, pain, stiffness, warmth, and swelling in the joints which are affected. The most striking characteristic is feeling stiff in the joints after rest. This is particularly apparent in the morning when the stiffness may take hours before feeling “looser”. In some people, the inflammation in the joints may be accompanied by a loss of energy (fatigue). Other symptoms might include low grade fevers, weight loss, muscle pain, or numbness and tingling in the fingers.
Once it is established, inflammatory arthritis is a chronic condition which will likely affect you for the rest of your life. As such, you will also need some type of medication to control your disease. It is usually a balancing act between taking as much medication as needed to control the arthritis and as little medication as necessary to prevent side-effects. Your doctor will adjust your dose or change your medications based on the latest results from your symptoms, findings on physical examination, and your laboratory tests.