Arthritic conditions found within the joints of the body: their causes, treatment, current research, and what effect they have on athletic participation.
Types of Arthritis
Causes of Arthritis
Arthritis and Athletic Activities
Arthritis is said to be the number one cause of disability in the United States, with more individuals disabled with arthritis than by both heart disease and strokes (Lewis 2000).
Arthritis is also a disease that is plagued with misunderstanding. The Center for Disease Control warns that it is these misunderstandings that result in the disease doing so much harm (Lewis 2000).
Some of the common misunderstandings involve recognizing that there are different types of arthritis and that arthritis is not only a disease of the aged. Arthritis is also often not taken seriously enough in its early stages, preventing individuals from seeking medical help that could prevent the disease from worsening.
There is also an important link between sports, exercise and arthritis. While it is true that arthritis can be caused by sport, it is also true that exercise can prevent arthritis from developing. The link between exercise and arthritis needs to be understood so that individuals can take the correct preventative measures.
Finally, it is worthwhile to consider the extent of the problem of arthritis. It is currently estimated that over 42 million Americans suffer from arthritis, with this number expected to increase to 60 million by 2020 (Lewis 2000).
There are two major types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 2.1 million Americans, about 1 per cent of the population. While it is more prevalent in people over 45, it can occur in any age group, including children (NIAMS 1998). It is reported that around 300,000 children suffer from arthritis (Lewis 2000).
Osteoarthritis is the more common type of arthritis, affecting around 21 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is associated with age, but can still be managed, treated and prevented (Lewis 2000).
The social and economic cost of arthritis is also not to be underestimated. The economic cost includes the cost of medical treatment as well as wages lost due to time taken off work. The social impact includes significant impact on quality of life, with the pain of arthritis commonly resulting in feelings of depression and anxiety (NIAMS 1998). Arthritis is also often related to problems with work and family life (NIAMS 1998).
Chapter Two: Literature Review
Arthritis is defined as "inflammation of one or more joints, characterized by swelling, warmth, redness of the overlying skin, pain and restriction of motion" (Martin 2000, p.46).
Arthritis actually refers to a group of over 100 diseases, each causing pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints (Lewis 2000).
Several of these conditions, if left untreated, are capable of causing irreversible joint damage and are also capable of affecting muscles, bones and even internal organs (Lewis 2000).
Though the specific causes and effects of the many types of arthritis differ, the common factors are that it affects the joints and causes inflammation. To allow the condition to be understood, the features of joints will be briefly discussed.
Joints are defined as the places where two bones meet. Each end of the joint is covered with cartilage, with the cartilage being a soft material that allows the joint to move freely (AAOS 2000). The joint is surrounded by the synovium, a membrane that secrets synovial fluid, a thick fluid that lubricates the joint (AAOS 2000). As we will later see, the cartilage and the synovium are often causes of arthritis.
Types of Arthritis
While there are over 100 different types of arthritis, there are several that are more common than others. Three of these that will be discussed are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is also known as 'degenerative joint disease' and is basically a product of wear and tear on the joints (Lewis 2000). This means it is often seen in the elderly, though is also associated with injury and overuse.
Osteoarthritis occurs as the cartilage protecting the bone wears away. The lack of protection causes friction, inflammation then follows as the body's way of protecting itself. Osteoarthritis also often results in bone growths known as 'spurs', which cause further pain (AAOS 2000).
Osteoarthritis commonly begins with the joints of the knee, hip and hand. The knee and hip are most affected because of the weight they bare and the hands are most affected because they are used so frequently.
Osteoarthritis normally begins very gradually, often with only one or two joints affected and those only mildly. Over time, the effects increase. This slow onset is one of the reasons that osteoarthritis is often left untreated, with individuals assuming the minor pain is a product of aging. This often means that medical help is not sought until after the arthritis has done major damage.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, where the bodies own cells begin to attack itself and cause degeneration of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the white blood cells of the immune system cause inflammation of the synovium. This inflammation causes the cells of the synovium to divide uncontrollably, with the synovium changing from a thin membrane to a thick one. This causes the joint to appear swollen. The synovial cells then continue to divide, destroying cartilage and bone as they do so. This spreads to the muscles and ligaments supporting the joint causing general weakness of the joint (NAISM 1998).
The overall effect is to cause pain in the joint and eventually deformity. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs often in the hands and feet but also in the hips, knees and elbows, with pain and swelling experienced even if the joint is not used (AAOS 2000).
One of the reasons rheumatoid arthritis is such a serious condition, is that it causes irreversible damage to the bones. Scientists believe that this damage begins in the first year that a person has the disease, making early diagnosis crucial (Lewis 2000).
Rheumatoid arthritis also commonly extends to other areas of the body. Many people develop bumps under the skin, known as rheumatoid nodules. Anaemia is also common, as is generally feeling ill. In rare occasions, people also experience heart and lung problems as well (NAISM 1998).
Another characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis is its variation. For some individuals, rheumatoid arthritis occurs for a short period and then disappears, others experience periods of flares and remissions, and others have the disease constantly. The severity of the disease also differs from moderate to severe forms (NAISM 1998). This variation between individuals causes difficulties in managing the diagnosis and the treatment of the disease.
Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis experienced by around a quarter of the people with the disease psoriasis.
Psoriasis is defined as "a chronic skin disease in which itchy scaly red patches form on the elbows, knees, legs, scalp, and other parts of the body" (Martin 2000, p. 523).
Psoriatic arthritis occurs in combination with psoriasis and typically involves the joints of the fingers and toes. Another dangerous form is psoriatic spondylitis, which involved the joints of the spine, typically of the lower back.
Causes of Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Scientists have found that certain genes cause a predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis, with individuals with certain genes more likely to have the disease. At the same time, some individuals with the genes do not experience arthritis, while other without the genes do. This leads to the conclusion that genes are involved, but environmental factors are also important (NIAMS 1998).
It is thought that an environmental agent triggers arthritis in those predisposed to it. The agent involved is not known, but it is thought that there may be a virus or bacteria involved (NIAMS 1998).
Other research suggests that arthritis may be caused by hormonal factors, with hormones or changes in hormones causing arthritis in those predisposed to it (NIAMS 1998).
There are a range of treatments available for arthritis.
A ical pain relievers are used for mild arthritis. These include various creams, gels and sprays that are applied to the joint experiencing pain. These are designed to reduce pain and inflammation experienced only mildly or infrequently.
Antidepressants are used to treat the chronic pain associated with more severe forms of arthritis. These antidepressants also treat depression that often accompanies chronic forms of the disease (MFMER 2002).
Injections of corticosteroids directly into the joint are also used to give long-term pain relief. These injections give pain relief for four to six months (MFMER 2002).
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin and ibuprofen are also commonly used. These drugs reduce the swelling and ease the pain associated with arthritis. NSAIDs have however, been linked to gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers. A new type known as COX-2 inhibitors have been successful in treating arthritis without the stomach irritation…