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What is arthritis?

Last Updated: 14 December 2018








What is arthritis?

Arthritis is not just a disease that affects the elderly. Although it is more common in people over the age of 50, it can affect all ages including young adults and children. There are many varieties of arthritis but the two most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both are different diseases but have the same painful symptoms.


This type of arthritis is the most common form and usually affects those over 50 in people that have suffered injuries, or have repeatedly overused their joints like from playing sports. The cartilage between the bones is affected and as it gradually wears away, the bones in the joints start to rub together. This can be very painful and lead to swelling of the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This kind of arthritis is less common but usually affects people between 40-50 years old. Women are in fact three times more likely than men to be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its healthy tissues and in this case, the joints, which causes pain and swelling. The outer layer of the joint is affected first, then it can spread and continue to break down the cartilage.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Inflammation
  • Warm, red skin over joint,
  • Restricted mobility in joint
  • Weakness in joint and surrounding muscle

Arthritis in the young

Arthritis developed in children is called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) and there are many different types. The most common type is oligo-articular arthritis, which affects less than five joints in the body – usually knees, ankles and wrists. Children with the kind of arthritis sometimes develop eye problems so frequent visits to an optician is recommended. Polyarthritis affects five or more joints and usually brings with it a rash or fever. If joint pain lasts for more than six weeks in children then they should see a GP.

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately, no. But arthritis, whichever kind, can be treated with anti-inflammatory painkillers, topical creams, ice packs and exercise to build up the muscle around the joints. In severe cases surgery may be required to replace the joint, but if steps are taken to slow down the disease then surgery can be avoided. It is best to exercise regularly and, in particular, exercise the muscles surrounding the affected joints in order to build up strength around them.

For strengthening exercises see this page



Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)

Healthy ageing
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