There are many different types of arthritides. The most common of these is osteoarthritis, a degenerative form. Many people are also affected by inflammatory, psoriatic, infectious, or metabolic arthritis. Although each has a different cause and appropriate treatment program, the defining symptom and essential meaning of arthritis is joint pain.
Progressive, Chronic, or Intermittent Pain
Arthritis is much more than just a little bit of irritation in between the bones. Some cases of arthritis are just uncomfortable. Others are a little more intense, and limit your ability to do things like walk up stairs or stand up from a soft, sinking couch. Some cases of arthritis are severe enough to make even everyday activities, like hand-writing a post-it note or brushing your teeth, difficult.
Other forms of arthritis may come in spurts. You will experience weeks or even months of being pain-free, and then suddenly experience the onset of an acute attack of aching joints. Still, other arthritides remain at more or less the same level of pain for long periods of time, eventually progressing into a more severe discomfort.
Swelling and Inflammation
In addition to the chronic pain that develops, the joints can become swollen as internal inflammation becomes external swelling. You may notice puffy ankles, fingers that become too big for your rings, or requiring an extra link in your watch as your arthritis progresses. Ultimately, according to the Arthritis Foundation, the swelling occurs because the synovium that lines the joint, or because of effusion, a process in which an increase of joint fluid occurs. Effusion is caused by an inrush of white blood cells, extra blood, and molecules like peptides -- and all of these things increase swelling. White blood cells naturally cause inflammation, the extra blood makes the area seem warmer than normal, and the inflammatory materials cause joint fluid to collect in and around the joint, according to the Arthritis Foundation. How your joint swells can be a tell as to the type of arthritis you have.
Arthritis hinders your joints mobility in a few different ways. First, of course, is the previously mentioned pain that can be severe enough to interfere with even the most unambitious of athletic pursuits. But in addition to this is the stiffness that hampers your normal full joint extension and rotation. Swelling can contribute to this as well. This leads to a specific decrease in your normal range of motion as your joint loses its ability to move smoothly and completely. For example, arthritis in the hip or knee might keep you from kicking your legs up like a Rockette, because your joints simply won’t allow the appendage to rotate as fully.
Eventually, some forms of arthritides may actually change the way the joints look. They may become knobbly; affected fingers or toes can seem to twist or curl, rather than retaining the straightness of youth. Often, however, these changes aren’t visible to the naked eye, appearing only through imaging techniques.
Understanding Arthritis Symptoms
The specific symptoms you experience as you seek diagnostic care from your physician are extremely important. Arthritis comes in over 100 different forms, but all of them share symptomatic joint pain. Osteoarthritis causes this pain because of a degeneration over time of the protective cartilage, while inflammatory arthritides, like rheumatic arthritis, arise because of an inconsistency in the immune system that causes it to attack the joints, causing inflammation that leads to pain. The trick is to be able to see the little differences between your joint pain and other kinds of joint pain. When your joint pain occurs, what triggers your joint pain, and any symptoms that may seem unrelated (such as rashes, hair loss, fatigue, and even issues with the organs) are all important to share with your doctor.