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Arthritis: Chronic Joint Pain

Diagnosing and Treating Chronic Arthritis Pain

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Updated June 21, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When you think of arthritis, you may think of an elderly person rubbing their hands together. However, arthritis much more complicated than that. There are over a hundred different types of arthritis, which can affect children and younger adults in addition to seniors.

Arthritis is usually characterized by joint pain and stiffness. Arthritic joints may appear red and swollen, and over time may develop movement limitations or physical deformities. Some types of arthritis affect tissues in other parts of the body as well, outside of the joints.

Types of Arthritis

While there are over a hundred different types of arthritis, the ones you are probably most familiar with are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some other common types of arthritis include:

Not sure which type of arthritis it is? Check out this quiz by about.com’s Guide to arthritis.

Diagnosing Arthritis

Like most chronic pain condition, diagnosing arthritis does not happen in a day. Chances are that, over time, your doctor will eliminate other possible causes of your joint pain and perform testing to determine which type of arthritis you may have. Here’s what you can expect:

  • A detailed history and physical, which will include questions about the intensity and quality of your pain, as well as what makes it worse or gives relief.
  • A physical exam, in which he may palpate your joints and check your range of motion. Your doctor will also examine your joints for other signs, such as swelling and redness.
  • Blood tests can check for the presence of certain chemicals and proteins that are associated with arthritis. In addition, a blood count may offer some insight into your joint pain.
  • Joint fluid tests are generally reserved for ruling out arthritis caused by infection or the presence of crystals (such as in gout), though they may be used to test for other substances present in the joint as well.
  • Imaging studies, such as X-rays or an MRI, can offer a look inside the joint. This can help your doctor check for structural changes that are associated with some types of arthritis.

Treating Arthritis

Arthritis treatment may vary depending on the type of arthritis. Here are some common medical approaches to arthritis treatment:

Some people prefer to use complimentary or alternative approaches to treat their arthritis, such as acupuncture, massage or dietary supplements. Because there is such a wide range of treatment options for each type of arthritis, it is best to talk to your doctor before choosing one.

Coping With Arthritis

Like any other chronic pain condition, coping with arthritis can be challenging. In addition to taking your medications as directed, there are a few other things you can do that may help your arthritis pain. These include:

  • Low-impact exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Watching what you eat
  • Using joint protection techniques

Other coping strategies that may help your pain include keeping a pain journal, practicing relaxation and distraction techniques, and talking to someone who understands what you are going through.

Sources:

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Living With Arthritis. Accessed 5/23/10. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Arthritis/default.asp

Medline Plus. Arthritis. Accessed 5/23/10. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001243.htm

  1. About.com
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