No bones about it: Arthritis is a significant problem

Charles CrutchfieldOur bones are the scaffolding and framework for our body. However, without joints, we’d be as immobile as the Tin Man without oil.

There are 206 bones in the body and more than 400 joints that connect them. The other name for joints are “articulations.” Muscles move the bones, and the muscles are connected to the bones by tendons. Ligaments surround the joints and muscles for strength and support. Cartilage cushions those joints when they move.

The knees are an excellent example of both how great joints are and how fragile they can be. The knees are the most complicated joints in the body. They take a constant beating between the large leg bones on a constant basis.

A knee injury can happen in the blink of an eye from a sudden stop, change of direction, or over-extension, damaging the supporting ligaments or cushioning cartilage of the knee. In fact, knee replacement surgery (arthroplasty) is one of the most common operations in the United States.

Arthritis means “inflammation of the joints” and is a term that actually represents dozens of different types of inflammatory or degenerative disorders that damage or otherwise affect the joints. All types of arthritis share the same triad of symptoms — pain, stiffness and swelling — that tend to worsen with age.

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis results from the destruction of the end cartilage — the tough, slippery tissue covering of the ends of the bones where they form a joint — which tends to erode from constant wear and tear.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that targets the lining of joints (synovium). Gout, psoriasis and lupus are other more common conditions associated with arthritis.

Treatments are based on the on the type of arthritis. The goal of arthritis treatments is to prevent or minimize any joint damage; reduce pain, swelling and stiffness; and improve the quality of the patient’s life.

Treatment approaches

  • Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Analgesics (pain relievers)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
  • Corticosteroids to reduce the autoimmune attack and inflammation
  • Neuromodifiers, medications containing capsaicin that, when rubbed over a joint, may interfere with pain signal transmission
  • Immune modifiers such as biologic agents that block the autoimmune attack or methotrexate that slows down the attack 

Physical therapy 

Physical therapy can be helpful in certain cases. Exercises can extend the range of motion and strengthen the muscles supporting joints.

Surgery

Surgical treatments can include joint replacement or joint fusion.

Today, arthritis is among the world’s most common diseases. In fact, it may be one of the oldest, too. Fossil records indicate arthritis-like changes in skeletons thousands of years old.

Fortunately we have many excellent treatment programs for arthritis. If you feel that you or a loved one is suffering from arthritis, please consult your doctor to get them back in the swing of things!

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.