What does arthritis feel like?
by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP
This article takes 6 minutes to read
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Osteoarthritis is a condition that can affect any joint in your body. It is more common in people over the age of 40 and can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints. Specifically, osteoarthritis occurs when the articular cartilage that surrounds the ends of the bones where they join to create the joint, can become irritated, inflamed, and broken down.
Osteoarthritis is not a disease, but rather a chronic condition that can cause the cartilage of the bones in a joint to lose their cartilage. It may, therefore; be more accurate to refer to osteoarthritis as a symptom or complication of another condition. The most common causes of osteoarthritis are aging, obesity, repetitive use injuries, or a family history of osteoarthritis.
Joint pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis, with some people experiencing other symptoms such as decreased range of motion and joint deformity.
Common Symptoms of Osteoarthritis:
The pain from osteoarthritis can be distracting, debilitating, and limiting for normal activities. There are a number of things that cause joint pain and inflammation. As cartilage breaks down, the pressure put on the irritated tissues during movement can be painful. The joint pain can range from achy to sharp and pinching. Frayed cartilage pieces can cause an increase in pressure and pain against internal joint tissues.
Joint stiffness especially in the morning is one of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis. The joint becomes stiff due to the lack of movement during the night, and as the inflammatory cells settle into the joint due to the lack of movement, stiffness sensations increase. Activity and joint movement throughout the day help maintain joint lubrication and keep tissue edema ‘pumped out’ of the joint tissues.
The stiffness in the morning typically lasts about 30 minutes, as the joint loosens up with movement and time. Simply moving your legs while sitting or standing can very easily relieve joint stiffness. Stiffness can occur after a period of inactivity too, such as sitting through a movie or after a long car ride. Finding ways to keep moving when you are sitting in one place for a period of time will help to combat this stiffness.
Joint swelling (either due to fluid in the joint or the bones around the joints) can make the joint feel larger than normal, stiff, and painful. Connective tissue responds to inflammation by swelling, causing increased pressure in joint tissues. As cartilage tissues break down from the natural progression of osteoarthritis, the cartilage fragments can cause friction and joint irritation.
Pain when trying to sleep:
For some, pain from osteoarthritis can cause a person to lose sleep. Others may have more specific sleep issues such as having difficulty sleeping on an arthritic shoulder or finding a comfortable position for their knee. These interruptions with our normal sleep patterns can be frustrating. Sleep is vital for our body’s rest and repair. If a joint is causing you to lose sleep, try avoiding sleeping on the joint, use pillows to prop joints for more comfort, and elevate to reduce swelling if present.
Osteoarthritis can be painful and frustrating, but the symptoms can be managed. Joint swelling causes stiffness, which can lead to reducing activity and walking, which leads to continued joint stiffness and progressive weakness. By staying as active as possible, and keeping joints moving through their full range we can break this cycle.
Start slow, and be sure to pay attention to increasing pain and swelling, joints need to keep moving but these are signals for rest. Osteoarthritis is common and also a measure of joint health, however; muscle strength, joint mobility, and range of motion are also measures of joint health, and these are things you can control.
*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.