According to the CDC, approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis. One in five adults has been diagnosed with arthritis, and as many as half of all people over age 85 have osteoarthritis in the knee.

Arthritis is a major cause of pain and poor mobility in the elderly, and certain types of arthritis affect young people as well. By understanding the different types of arthritis and the treatment options available, you can protect yourself from chronic pain and poor mobility.

What is Arthritis?

The term “arthritis” literally means “inflammation of the joints,” and it describes over 100 different conditions that present similar symptoms. Different types of arthritis will be caused by different things, but the basic symptoms are the same: pain, swelling and lack of mobility in the affected joint.

A joint is any part of the body where two bones meet and bend. Joints commonly affected by arthritis include the knees, hips, elbows and fingers. In a healthy person, the joint is cushioned by a layer of cartilage and synovial fluid. In an arthritic joint, that cushioning may be absent or damaged. For example, the cartilage could wear down, causing the bones to rub against each other. In other cases, an auto-immune disorder could cause swelling in the area, which in turn would limit the joint’s mobility. Arthritis can occur in isolation at a particular joint or in multiple joints on the body.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects 27 million adults. Inflammatory forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout and fibromyalgia, make up the remaining cases. Although osteoarthritis primarily occurs in the elderly, it can develop at a younger age in people who have suffered joint injuries or carry other risk factors. Inflammatory arthritis, as a type of autoimmune disorder, can affect people of nearly any age.

If you’re experiencing any chronic pain or reduced mobility as a result of arthritis symptoms, it’s important to talk with your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe an appropriate treatment regimen that will help you manage your pain or reverse the effects of inflammation in your joints.

Arthritis Prevention and Treatment

When you are young and healthy, you can take certain steps to promote bone and joint health later in life:

– Get Plenty of Exercise – By strengthening your muscles, you can remove some of the stress from your joints. This also helps improve your flexibility and generally helps keep your body healthy. Exercise is valuable for people who already have arthritis as well. If you currently suffer from arthritis symptoms, consider low-impact exercises like swimming to improve strength and flexibility without stressing your joints.

– Maintain a Healthy Weight – Every extra pound you carry puts unnecessary stress on your joints. Exercising can help you maintain a proper weight; eating a healthy diet will help the pounds stay off as well. If you’re having difficulties finding a diet or exercise program that works for you, consult with your doctor. You may be able to get a referral for a program that will suit your needs.

– Get the Right Supplements – Studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation. These acids are commonly found in fatty fish or flaxseeds. You can also take fish oil capsules. Additionally, glucosamine is an over-the-counter supplement that can promote bone strength and joint health.

– Receive Prompt Medical Care for Injuries – Sports injuries or other trauma to the bones and joints can result in arthritis symptoms later in life. Be sure to receive prompt care for any joint injuries you sustain, and follow through with all physical therapy symptoms. This will help protect your joints from premature wear that could lead to arthritis.

Even with preventative care, arthritis may be unavoidable. The cause of auto-immune disorders is often genetic or otherwise out of a patient’s control, and osteoarthritis is an inevitable symptom of aging for many people. Fortunately, the symptoms can be managed. In the case of inflammatory arthritis, you may be prescribed steroids as a way to reduce inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen, may also be diagnosed to all kinds of arthritis sufferers. Reducing your sodium intake may also help keep inflammation down.

Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy or a simple exercise routine that will gently stress and exercise the affected joints. This routine, coupled with drugs and a healthy lifestyle, will reduce symptoms in most patients. Although the arthritis may never fully go away, you can find ways to manage the pain and live a more active lifestyle well into old age.