Arthritis Awareness Month helps us deal with this commonly misunderstood health issue. Here are a few rather surprising facts: Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America. More than a fifth of American adults struggle with arthritis or another diagnosed rheumatic condition. The condition is most common in Americans aged 45 and up and is more prevalent among women. Yet arthritis remains wholly misunderstood. Rather than a single condition, arthritis is a term used to describe multiple conditions that cause joint pain.
Despite its already high prevalence, arthritis is thought to affect up to double the number of people we currently know is affected. To help shed some light on this condition, its management and treatment, recent research, and what friends and family can do to help support their affected loved ones, the Arthritis Foundation, the CDC, and other partners have proclaimed May to be the Arthritis Awareness Month in 2021 and beyond.
May Is Arthritis Awareness Month
This month, the Arthritis National Research Foundation is encouraging people all around the country to go blue in solidarity with people struggling with chronic pain because of an arthritic condition. Solidarity is important when tackling a condition like arthritis. Arthritis describes a symptom present in over a hundred different conditions, most of which involve debilitating joint pain.
In most cases, the primary cause for the pain is often unidentified or undiagnosed, and effective treatment can be rare to find. As a result, many Americans with arthritic pain do not get the help they need, and most of the public is not aware of just how impactful arthritic pain can be to an individual and their family.
By targeting this condition through spreading awareness and starting discourse, healthcare organizations around the country are attempting to help people with joint pain gain access to the support and resources they might need to seek a proper diagnosis and find treatment, or better understand their treatment options and how they might be able to manage their chronic condition at home. In addition, Arthritis Awareness Month seeks to spread information, debunk myths and misconceptions, explain how arthritis develops, and more.
Arthritis describes chronic joint pain, a condition most often found in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as several other conditions. In most cases, when someone is talking about their arthritis, they refer to joint pain in general. However, their specific diagnosis may or may not be one of the two conditions, depending on their other symptoms.
Etymologically, arthritis is derived from the Greek for joint inflammation (arthro-, as in arthropod and arthroscope, and -itis, as in conjunctivitis and laryngitis). In both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, it is a swelling of tissues in and around the joints that causes the pain – but how and why the swelling occurs is different between the two conditions.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by stiffened and brittle cartilage on the joints. As the cartilage continues to degenerate, swelling occurs in the tendons and ligaments around the joint. Later, bony formations called osteophytes to grow in response to the stress of the bones rubbing against each other without the buffer previously provided by healthy cartilage. The result is a painful joint, with bones forcing themselves out of their proper positions.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease and one of several rheumatoid conditions. Rheumatology (derived from the Greek for stream or flow, describing the pain) is a branch of medicine in and of itself, devoted to several conditions that largely affect the musculoskeletal system and various soft and connective tissues. A faulty immune system is often the primary cause. In rheumatoid arthritis, the patient’s immune system targets and attacks the synovium of the joints – its outermost layer. The attack spreads throughout the joint over time, breaking down both cartilage and bone.
Other conditions with rheumatic joint pain include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Psoriatic arthritis
Other forms of arthritis include:
- Reactive arthritis (related to an infection of the bowel, genital tract, or throat)
- Enteropathy arthritis (related to irritable bowel disease and Crohn’s disease)
- Polymyalgia rheumatic
Arthritis Is a Chronic Illness
Arthritic pain is chronic pain, which means that it is recurring and can last for much longer than a few weeks. In many cases, arthritic pain becomes a lifelong burden, as many of the conditions that cause arthritis can be progressive.
How Arthritis Is Treated
Most conditions that include debilitating and/or chronic joint pain as a symptom do not have a cure yet, but can be treated and managed, usually through a combination of medication, physical therapy, lifestyle interventions (working with nutritionists, encouraging a more active lifestyle), and in some cases, surgical interventions (to excise bone growths) and nerve blocks. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment protocol for all forms of joint pain. For some patients, weight control can help reduce pain by reducing the stress on the joints.
For others, body weight is not an issue, and they may have a harder time keeping weight on due to their condition (which, in turn, can worsen pain due to decreased muscle mass and lower physical strength). Every case of chronic joint pain requires a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s symptoms, medical history, family history, and personal circumstances. The one universal constant, however, is the need for support.
The Importance of Community and Family Support
The importance of support when coping with daily pain should not be underestimated. Those that have a stable support network cope much better with their pain. Social support can also reduce the mental health consequences of chronic pain, reducing pain sensitivity due to the link between low mood and nociception. Arthritis Awareness Month aims to help families and friends of patients with arthritic pain understand the importance of their role in combatting these illnesses.
Getting the Right Treatment
If you have been suffering from chronic joint pain or suspect that you are struggling with a form of arthritis, be sure to seek professional medical help and begin managing your arthritis pain as soon as possible. Proper interventions can drastically reduce the rate at which the pain progresses. Pain management is an ongoing process. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it and seek out the help you deserve.