Early Signs of Arthritis

Do I have arthritis?

If you’re worried about the sudden onset or persistence of certain symptoms, you wouldn’t be alone. A research study by Global RA Network reported that more than 350 million people experience arthritis globally with increasing diagnoses each and every year.

The early signs of arthritis are:

  • Persistent joint pain
  • Short-term soreness after physical activity
  • Tenderness of the skin and joints to touch
  • Stiffness in joints and decreased ability to be mobile

Phone for Arthritis

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a term that describes the inflammation of one or more joints, causing debilitating pain and stiffness that may worsen with age and other intersectional conditions.

Man massaging his arthritic hand and wrist

Different types of arthritis exist, each with varying symptoms, causes, and underlying diseases. Most often, it develops when the shock-absorbing cartilage between bones wears down and is unable to function normally.

From pain, swelling and redness around joints to ongoing tenderness, restricted movement and persistent lack of mobility, the common symptoms of arthritis can be challenging to navigate.

Of course, understanding the early warning signs of an arthritis diagnosis is key to both effective management and combatting its long-term effects.

Here’s what you need to know.

What are the signs I might have arthritis?

There are commonly understood to be more than 100 unique conditions classified under the umbrella term arthritis, each with its own unique symptoms.

Often, the first sign of arthritis in joints is persistent pain. This can be accompanied by occasional soreness, tenderness and stiffness at times throughout the day and night, particularly in the morning or after prolonged periods of strain on the joint – think gardening, jogging or walking up a few flights of stairs.

Many people describe this initial, unique brand of pain as a dull ache or burn (also called arthralgia). Often, the type of pain felt will depend on different causal factors, as well the type of arthritis experienced.

Man wearing gloves working in the garden

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Much like the early warning signs, the symptoms of arthritis and signs you may be developing the condition can worsen over time. They include:

  • Joint swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness, particularly in the morning, after activity, or with changes in weather
  • Tenderness in skin surrounding joints
  • Redness
  • Impacted overall mobility
  • Reduced confidence in mobility

…and much more.

What are the different types of arthritis?

There is widely considered to be five major types or categories of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Gout
  • Lupus

The first is osteoarthritis – the kind that occurs through “wear and tear” when joints are excessively strained and overused over long periods of time. While it may occur with age, it can also be caused by persistent joint injuries or weight gain, both of which can place additional stress on joints.

Elderly lady grimaces in pain as her therapist treats her arm

Secondly, there is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system attacks particular parts of the body – in this case, the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to excessive inflammation and the growth of rheumatoid nodules – lumps formed over parts of the joints that receive the most pressure including heels, wrists, ankles, knuckles and elbows.

Another type of arthritis is psoriatic arthritis. People with this type of condition experience both inflammation of the joints and skin (psoriasis). While this type of arthritis commonly occurs between the ages of 30-50, it can also have onset as early as childhood. Psoriatic arthritis and its additional symptom of skin irritation can often help those experiencing it catch an arthritis diagnosis at its early stages.

Many people don’t realize that the commonly experienced condition gout is also a type of arthritis. Caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals within any joint in the body, the treatment for gout usually relates to a modification of diet, exercise, and attention to kidney function.

Finally, lupus (also called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE) is another autoimmune-categorized form of arthritis.

Affecting the health and functionality of the body’s joints as well as a number of its organs, lupus can cause pain and inflammation throughout the body, which can even spread as far as the brain.

Senior gentleman walking using a walking frame

Each variation of the condition retains its particular causal factors and symptoms – some of which are affected by a person’s age.

Do the symptoms of Arthritis worsen over time?

While recognizing the early signs of arthritis is important, careful consideration must also be given to understanding the effects of the condition as a person ages.

Often, the natural effects of aging will intersect with an arthritis diagnosis to further impact mobility, tissue and joint health, and the optimal functioning of the body and its processes.

This can have a debilitating impact on a person experiencing arthritis; particularly if that person is already experiencing the effects of social isolation and decreased mobility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most important ways that the effects of arthritis can be controlled is by addressing its known risk factors.

What is the “arthritis age”?

While there’s no specific age at which arthritis can hit, various risk factors can affect a person across their lifespan.

According to both the NHS and Arthritis Society Canada, potential risk factors for arthritis include those that are non-modifiable including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Genetic makeup and underlying genetic conditions
Happy elderly couple hugging while walking in the park with one using a walking frame

Arthritis risk factors that are modifiable include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity and being overweight
  • Specific joint injuries
  • Smoking
  • Infection
  • Occupation type
  • Diet

Careful consideration of how these risk factors can be managed and modified can help contribute to the management of arthritis in the long term.

How is arthritis treated?

The type of treatment recommended for an arthritis diagnosis is based largely on its type and symptoms. If, for example, the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are being treated, both specialist physiotherapy and DMARDS (also known as disease-modifying and antirheumatic drugs) can be combined.

Arthritis awareness organization Versus Arthritis notes that as well as being afforded access to the right medications and therapy, having a good understanding of your condition also enables better management of its symptoms.

From this angle, the health of the “whole person” – including, most importantly, social wellbeing and mental health – must always be considered. Often, a person’s ability to keep active, stay healthy and be motivated to do so will depend on their level of social activity and connection.

Tips on improving quality of life

Want to learn more? Visit the Konnekt library of educational materials, shaped specifically to advocate for your – and your loved ones’ – quality of life.

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