Arthritis Pain Overview

The word "arthritis" is derived from two Greek words that together mean "inflammation of the joint." A joint is where two bones meet. A healthy joint is cushioned by cartilage (a coating on the end of each bone) and by synovial fluid (a fluid in the space between the two bones). Arthritis occurs in joints where cartilage has become damaged.

Over time, stiffness, pain, inflammation, and loss of movement develop in affected joints. People with arthritis may have difficulty with very basic movements and every day activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, typing, or brushing teeth.

While some people believe that little can be done to treat arthritis effectively, the reality is that the condition usually can be controlled. The key is to team up with your health care provider to obtain a correct diagnosis and devise an effective treatment plan.

Types of Arthritis

The term "arthritis" actually refers to over 100 distinct conditions. The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other arthritic conditions include the following:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • >
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Pseudogout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis

The most prevalent form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). Approximately 21 million people in the United States are diagnosed with OA. This condition is most common in women over the age of 60; however, in those under the age of 55, more men than women develop OA. In general, OA that develops after years of wear and tear is called primary osteoarthritis. OA that develops from another cause (e.g., obesity, injury, heredity) is called secondary osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects over 2 million people, mostly women. Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In patients with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue as if it were an infection or invading organism. This immune response and the damage it causes lead to joint stiffness, pain, and inflammation. If left untreated, RA can lead to permanent disfiguration and joint damage.

Incidence and Prevalence of Arthritis

Approximately 52.5 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis and it's estimated that about 70 million have arthritis. The condition affects men and women of all races and ethnicities, as well as children. However, arthritis is more common in women and in older people.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 May 2006

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015