Arthritis is an unfortunate term. Due to our association with the diagnosis, we picture an evil presence inside our body and a “disease” that spreads and wreaks havoc on our joints to cause pain and stiffness. We didn’t see it coming and we don’t know how it got there. We are the innocent prey, and the arthritis is the sly hunter that lurks and finally attacks when we pick something up, negotiate stairs, or reach overhead. The Internet is filled with pictures of people holding their Photoshop-enhanced red joints, perpetuating the pain, dysfunction, and anxiety one experiences. Just looking at these pictures tweaks my own joints.
Osteoarthritis is joint specific and not an overall, body-wide condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is a separate entity and should not be confused with osteoarthritis. A true diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis is only made by a medical doctor following a series of specific tests. For our purposes here, only osteoarthritis will be discussed.
Technically, arthritis is inflammation of a joint. Pain and stiffness are possible symptoms.
Just because you have arthritis in one body part does not mean you have it elsewhere. More importantly, arthritis as diagnosed on a radiograph (x-ray) does not mean it’s causing pain, and the worse it looks on a radiograph does not equate to more pain.1
Instead of taking a passive approach to a diagnosis of arthritis, take the active approach. Non-painful exercise and continuing to be active are both paramount. Further assessment, such as provided by a physical therapist, may yield movement dysfunctions and musculoskeletal findings such as decreased range of motion and strength from nearby body parts that are contributing to undue stress on that arthritic, painful joint. Surgery is not the answer except in extreme degenerative or painful cases. Surgery also comes with more risk than a conservative approach that includes exercise and physical therapy. Allow us to identify your movement dysfunction so you can remain active. Together, we can keep the imaginary Photoshop red out of your joints.
Dr. John DeNoyelles, PT, OCS, CSCS
1 Bedson J, Croft PR. The discordance between clinical and radiographic knee osteoarthritis: A systematic search and summary of the literature. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2008; 9:116.