How to spot early signs of arthritis
With age comes many benefits for us. We learn perspective and appreciation for the things around us, while we also build up wisdom from our life experiences. However, ageing is not without its own changing concerns, one of which can be arthritis. Arthritis affects more than 10 million adults in the UK, and while it can affect children and young adults, it is a condition that primarily affects older adults. A common condition that is known to cause pain and inflammation of joints, it is one of the leading causes of disability in the UK.
As you get older, you may notice your body changing or behaving in ways you’re unfamiliar with. Some of these changes could be early warning signs of arthritis. With the onset of arthritis starting as early as your 40s, it’s useful to be aware of the signs and symptoms that could alert you to speak with your doctor sooner.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting almost 9 million people. Women are more commonly affected than men, and there is evidence it runs in the family too. Other times, you might find osteoarthritis is caused by an injury or linked to other joint-related diseases. While there are a number of causes, understanding what to look out for can help with early detection of arthritis. If you’re wondering how to spot early signs of arthritis, read through these common signs below.
Pain is a typical symptom of arthritis for many who are affected by the condition. The pain, however, can come and go, or it may be constant. Pain can be triggered by certain movements or motions, although it may also be experienced with rest. Pain is common for those who suffer from arthritis in their hands, wrists, feet and knees. If you are experiencing pain in your joints that aren’t attributed to a current or recent injury, it could be an early indication of arthritis.
Another early sign of arthritis for many is swelling around the affected joint. Inflammation typically presents early in the onset of arthritis and can cause your joints to appear larger than usual. Inflammation can cause the site to become warm and red due to the swelling. Common during flare-ups, inflammation can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If swelling persists for several days at a time or more than three times in a month, it is worth paying your doctor a visit.
Joint stiffness is a telltale early sign of arthritis. Some people may find they experience morning stiffness that reduces throughout the day as they increase their movement. Others may find it is long-lasting and persistent throughout the day. The cause of stiffness is related to the swelling you might also experience. Inflammation is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly sending antibodies to the site of a joint. Here, those antibodies attack the tissue that surrounds the joint, which over long periods causes damage to the ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bone around the joint. If you experience stiffness on a regular basis or find it is getting worse, it could be an indication you have arthritis.
Grating or grinding joints
Sometimes described as creaky joints or a crunching sensation, this feeling can be a typical early sign of osteoarthritis. The important thing to remember with creaking joints is that unless the pain is too much, movement should continue. It is normal for arthritic joints to give off this sensation.
Fatigue can be one of the earliest signs of arthritis; however, as a significant number of other conditions share fatigue as a symptom, it can be hard to determine if fatigue alone is a sign. Instead, if you begin to experience fatigue in conjunction with any of these other early signs of arthritis, it may serve as a better indication. In addition to fatigue, you may experience a general sense of ill-health or not feeling your best. If you’re unsure, it is always best to seek advice from your GP.
Numbness and tingling
A less common symptom that affects some people with arthritis is experiencing numbness and tingling. For some people, this could occur in conjunction with some of the abovementioned early signs of arthritis or may not occur at all. Numbness and tingling are caused by pressure applied to your nerves as inflamed joints swell. This can range from mild discomfort that feels like ‘pins and needles’ or more acute sensations depending on your case.
While a less common early symptom of arthritis, strained muscles may present for some. Muscle strain is a result of muscles overcompensating for sore joints. As a result, pain might then be experienced in the muscles of a surrounding area. This is more likely to be an early sign of arthritis if it is prolonged or regular near the same joints. Isolated events are less likely to be an indication of arthritis.
Which areas of the body are most affected by arthritis?
Arthritis affects joints in your body; however, some areas of the body are more likely to be stricken by arthritis than others. Hands, knees, hips and the spine are the parts of the body which patients usually present with signs of arthritis. Which part of the body is affected will determine the level of interference you may experience.
What should I do if I am experiencing early signed arthritis?
Arthritis is a very common condition that many people experience globally. The extent to which the condition affects your life may vary day-to-day or progress as you age. If you are concerned about any of the above early signs of arthritis, it is essential to seek advice from your GP early.
There is currently no cure for arthritis, but there are a number of treatments that can help reduce symptoms such as pain, stiffness and swelling. Working with your medical professional to help manage your symptoms can make living with arthritis easier and help you maintain a certain lifestyle.
Noting down how often and what type of symptoms you are experiencing will help provide your doctor with a more detailed picture of your situation. Noticing how long you experience symptoms for, when they occur, and whether anything provides relief are all useful pieces of information for your GP.
How can I help manage or improve my arthritis?
If you have been diagnosed with arthritis, it’s important to follow health advice that can reduce the impact the condition has on your life. Like many aspects related to health, diet, and exercise are a huge part of maintaining your health and wellness.
A healthy diet
The role of a healthy and well-balanced diet should never be underestimated. First and foremost, a healthy diet will ensure you maintain a healthy weight which will make the management of arthritis easier. Taking on board the principles of healthy eating, you should ensure you are consuming from all five food groups to absorb the nutrients you need.
If you are overweight, this can burden your arthritis by putting more pressure on your joints, particularly those in your spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Unnecessary pressure on your joints will lead to increased symptoms including pain, discomfort, swelling and joint stiffness, all which will affect your mobility.
As with a healthy diet, exercise is important for your overall health. While pain and stiffness may leave you feeling like exercise is difficult, movement will help relieve or reduce the effects of arthritis. Maintaining regular exercise can improve joint mobility, so long as you are performing the correct type of exercise and difficulty level to suit your arthritis. It is worth noting if you are doing the incorrect exercise it can cause more problems, so it is recommended to work with a physical therapist to find what is most suitable for you.
Look after your joints
As joints are the area affected by arthritis, you need to pay extra attention to caring for them. Taking the right steps can help avoid further damage. Ensure you are reducing stress on your joints by:
- Using larger joints as levers such as using your body weight to push or pull items, rather than just your hands and wrist.
- Loosen your grip or use padded handles to widen your grip.
- Spread the weight of an object by using multiple joints such as using a backpack or carrying your shopping with two hands.
Around your home
There are also some changes you can make around your home to make living with arthritis easier. Some modifications to your home life can include:
- Keeping objects within easy reach.
- Adding handrails to your home, especially on staircases.
- Using electric appliances to make tasks easier, such as electric can openers.
You can also make larger modifications to your home, such as installing a walk-in shower or walk-in bath, to improve accessibility in your bathroom while reducing slip hazards. Wet rooms are another option if you are short on space, while still providing improved access.
It’s important to keep an eye out for early signs of arthritis so you can take action to improve your management of the condition early. If you are concerned about any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, we recommend seeking advice from your GP.