Joint pain is a very common complaint among Singaporean adults and older people. While many perceive joint pain as a natural part of aging, in most cases, it is actually a symptom of arthritis.
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not one singular disease. It is actually an umbrella term for over 100 types that are characterized by pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Arthritis can affect one or many joints, and can worsen with age if left untreated.
There are many types of arthritis, the most common being:
- Osteoarthritis – The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis refers to the wear and tear of the joint’s cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that serves as a cushion in between bones. A damaged or diseased cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, which in turn causes the joint lining to be inflamed. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it commonly attacks the joint in the knee, hip, hand and spine.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy joints, causing the joint lining to become inflamed. Depending on its severity, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can damage nearby tissues and bones, as well as other organs such as the eyes, lungs, heart and skin.
- Gout – This is a type of inflammatory arthritis that can cause sudden and intense pain in only one joint, specifically the joint of the big toe. Gout occurs when high levels of uric acid in the blood form urate crystals, which accumulate in the joint.
- Ankylosing spondylitis – This is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine. Overtime it causes the bones of the spine to fuse together, leading to reduced flexibility and in severe cases, a hunched posture.
- Juvenile arthritis – This is a type of arthritis that affects children below 16 years old.
- Psoriatic arthritis – This is a form of arthritis that develops in people who are also diagnosed with psoriasis.
Treatment for arthritis will depend on its type and severity. Currently, there is no one cure for all types of arthritis. In many cases, the treatment is focused on managing symptoms and preventing flares. This could vary from simple diet and lifestyle adjustments and medication to physiotherapy and surgery. As with all illnesses, the key to effectively managing arthritis is early diagnosis and personalized management.