What is arthritis?
The word arthritis literally means joint inflammation ("arthr-" means joint; "-itis" means inflammation). It refers to more than 100 different diseases. These diseases usually affect the area in or around joints, such as muscles and tendons.
Some of these diseases can also affect other parts of the body, including the skin and internal organs. There are many types of arthritis. Most forms of arthritis are chronic, which means they may last a lifetime.
Who gets arthritis?
Nearly 40 million Americans, or one in every seven people, have arthritis. It affects people of all ages, but it most often comes on as a person gets older.
Can cracking knuckles cause arthritis?
There is no evidence that cracking one's knuckles can cause arthritis directly. However, repeated injury of a joint or repeatedly causing it to swell can injure the cartilage and potentially lead to degenerative joint disease.
How does arthritis feel?
Arthritis usually causes stiffness, pain and fatigue. The severity varies from person to person, and even from day to day. In some people, only a few joints are affected and the impact may be small. In other people, the entire body system may be affected. The joints of the body are the site of much of the action in arthritis. Many types of arthritis show signs of joint inflammation: swelling, stiffness, tenderness, redness or warmth. These joint symptoms may be accompanied by weight loss, fever or weakness.
When these symptoms last for more than two weeks, inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis may be the cause. Joint inflammation may also be caused by infection, which can lead to septic arthritis. Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) is the most common type of arthritis; joint inflammation is not a prominent feature of this condition. While normal joints can support a vast amount of use, mechanical abnormalities of a joint make it susceptible to degeneration.
It is healthy for you to keep active and move your joints. If you do not move a joint regularly, the muscles around it weaken and/or become tight. The joint can stiffen or even freeze. When you do try to move, the joint and muscles hurt because they have been still for so long.
Many things affect how your joints and muscles feel. Pain may be caused by swelling, joint damage, muscle tightness or spasm. Muscles hurt after doing exercise or activities you aren't used to; sometimes when the joint is damaged, simple activities stress the joint.
When your joints are inflamed or damaged, you need to take certain precautions as you do all your daily activities. Your doctor or therapist can teach you exercises and the correct use of heat and cold to decrease pain. You can also learn how to use your body with the least stress to your joints for less pain, easier movement and even more energy.
Arthritis can make it hard to do the movements you rely on every day for work or taking care of your family.
Can arthritis cause numbness?
Numbness is often a symptom of nerve involvement. For instance, numbness in the arm may be related to nerve irritation in the neck. In such a situation, turning or bending the head to the involved side may increase the symptoms. For example, a pinched nerve in the right side of the neck may cause numbness in the arm and hand when a person attempts to look back over the right shoulder. If nerve irritation becomes more severe, the arm and hand may become weak. A physical examination, X-rays, and an MRI of the neck, and electrodiagnostic tests may be useful in establishing the diagnosis.
Why do joints make popping and cracking noises?
Joints can make different noises--some are serious and some are not.
Some people learn how to "pop their knuckles." By pushing or pulling a joint in a certain way, an air bubble can suddenly appear in the joint with a "pop." Once the bubble is there the joint cannot be popped again until the air has been reabsorbed.
Some joints crack as the ligaments and tendons that pass over them slide past bumps on the bones. Individuals who "crack their neck" make noise in this way.
Other joints lock up intermittently--often with a loud pop--because something gets caught in between the joint surfaces. A torn cartilage in the knee or a loose piece of bone or cartilage in the joint can do this. Once a joint is stuck in this way, it may need to be wiggled around to unlock it. This may also cause a pop.
Finally, joints that are arthritic may crack and grind. These noises usually occur each time the joint is moved. This noise is due to the roughness of the joint surface due to loss of the smooth cartilage.