Arthritis, meaning joint inflammation, encompasses more than 100 different diseases, most commonly causing pain, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints. Affecting one in three Americans—old and young alike—this long-term problem can make it difficult to perform daily activities; this disabling can result in psychological as well as physical issues.
The specialists at MedStar Georgetown, however, can help you find ways to reduce pain and keep moving. Our orthopaedic and rheumatology teams work with your primary care physician to provide the best possible diagnosis and treatment for your arthritis—so that you can get on with the business of living with minimum pain and maximum mobility.
Most arthritis results from years of accumulated wear and tear on joints, and tends to occur in the elderly in hips, knees, shoulders and finger joints. Other risk factors are obesity, a history of trauma, and various genetic and metabolic diseases. Although arthritis is mainly a disease of adults, children also may have it. It also affects women nearly three times as often as men.
Symptoms of Arthritis
- Joint pain and/or swelling
- Early morning stiffness
- Warmth around a joint
- Redness of the skin around a joint
- Inability to move the joint
- Unexplained weight loss, fever or weakness that occurs with joint pain
MedStar Georgetown is a pioneering force in the field of arthritis. We know a proper diagnosis is the first step in helping patients live without pain. That is why we take a multidisciplinary team approach to every patient right from the start.
To accurately diagnose arthritis, a physician will take a complete medical history, complete a physical examination that evaluates any symptoms, take X-rays to determine joint damage, and possibly perform other laboratory and blood tests to determine the exact type of arthritis and its severity.
Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and often the most destructive. It's a degenerative joint disease, gradually wearing away the cartilage surrounding the joint, that occurs equally in men and women and often appears in athletes who have had many joint injuries in their past. Contributing factors include age, heredity, and excess weight, lack of exercise, and injury or trauma.
The hands, hips, knees, neck, and lower back are often affected by this condition, and, in most cases, just one joint is affected (as opposed to rheumatoid arthritis, where both sides of the joint are affected). However, spinal osteoarthritis is the most common type, presenting symptoms that include debilitating neck and low-back pain, accompanied by tingling and numbness in the arms or legs.
Regardless of the cause, osteoarthritis conditions are often chronic and require good diagnosis and proper posture, daily exercise, and anti-inflammatory medications as part of a good treatment plan. Surgery to repair or replace joints is often necessary in severe cases
Osteonecrosis, also called avascular necrosis, is a type of arthritic bone disorder that causes decreased blood supply to the affected area. This decreased circulation causes cells in the bone and bone marrow to die, which may cause bones to collapse. When bones are fractured or dislocated, they can block or damage arteries in the area, leading to osteonecrosis. Symptoms include
- Joint stiffness
- Limited motion
Osteonecrosis usually occurs in large joints such as the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. It's more prevalent in people between the ages of 30 and 50, and most commonly affects the hip. Osteonecrosis of the knee occurs more often in women between ages 50 and 60. People with certain fractures of the hip; alcoholics; those taking certain steroids; and individuals with sickle cell anemia, lupus, or pancreatic conditions are at a higher risk for developing osteonecrosis.
Diagnosis is very important in its earliest stages so MedStar Georgetown specialists can provide the best individual treatment plan. Surgery may be recommended when patients have lost function in their joint or have unmanageable pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease affecting 2.1 million Americans, is an inflammation of the lining (synovium) of the joints that can lead to long-term damage and disability. The inflammation puts pressure on the surrounding tissues, which can produce chemicals that can ruin the joint surface. This, in turn, can cause deformities. Connective tissues that support internal organs are also susceptible to this form of arthritis.
Although rheumatoid arthritis can be a serious disease, many treatment options help reduce its severity and longevity in every individual. We work to assist patients in leading lives with more mobility, activity, and tolerance.
Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis treatments, as well as MedStar Georgetown’s rheumatology experts who are specially trained and equipped to diagnose and treat diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.
A wide variety of treatments are available for arthritis, and your team at MedStar Georgetown will customize the treatment plan that best suits your symptoms and situation.
Treatment plans often include
- Physical therapy
- Applying heat and/or cold to the site
- Consciously alternating activity with rest
- Learning to use joints correctly (ex: using your palms rather than your fingers to carry groceries)
- Losing excess weight to reduce pressure on the joints
- Walkers, canes, and other assistive devices
It's important to remember that arthritis doesn't mean an inactive lifestyle. Inactivity can weaken and stiffen the muscles surrounding the joints and impair your joints permanently.
When certain treatments fail, an orthopedic surgeon will perform surgery to help reduce the pain. Surgery may be used to realign joints or to remove the joint lining which has become damaged or pulled out of place due to the wearing away of cartilage and bone.
In joint replacement, also called arthroplasty, the physician replaces the joint with metal or plastic parts. Joint replacement has been especially effective with hips and knees, and has also been used for shoulders, ankles, elbows, and knuckles.