The elderly are more prone to aches and pains as age brings about changes in the body that can strain the muscles, tendons and joints. A common term that is often used to describe pains is arthritic joints or arthritis pain. However, arthritis is a specific joint condition meaning that the joint is inflamed. While arthritis is more common in the elderly, not every pain emanating from around the joints may be due to arthritis. There are different types of arthritis which explains the nature of the joint inflammation.
The two most common types of arthritis in the elderly is osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types of arthritis can occur in younger people but with age, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop. Bones that make up part of the joint are lined with a flexible and resilient protective covering known as cartilage. Around the joint is a thin lining known as the synovial membrane which secretes a lubricant into the joint spaces (synovial fluid). A capsule then seals the joint.
With age, the cartilage becomes worn down and break off. It does not regenerate as quickly as it did in early life and eventually the bone may be exposed. This leads to the joint condition known as osteoarthritis which is often a result of lifelong wear and tear. Although osteoarthritis is more a condition of the cartilage and bones, it is still referred to as a type of arthritis.
The other common type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints (synovial membrane), This causes the membrane to become inflamed and lead to joint pain. There are various risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis, often related to a family history, but in many cases the exact cause is unknown.
The other type of arthritis which is not as common but may occur is septic arthritis when the joint becomes infected with microbes (germs). This is not more likely in the elderly and can affect a person of any age.
Pain in the joints is the main symptom in arthritis. The nature of this pain may differ among the various types of arthritis as well as other signs and symptoms. Osteoarthritis pain tends to get worse with movement of the joint and any weight on the joint. A person with osteoarthritis of the knee may find that standing or walking for long period will bring about or worsen the pain. Rheumatoid arthritis pain tends to ease with movement although excessive strain can worsen the pain.
Stiffness is another common feature with arthritic joint pain. It is generally worse when waking up and with inactivity in both types of arthritis. The stiffness gradually eases as a person moves the joints. Swelling of the joints is more prominent with rheumatoid arthritis and the joint may appear enlarged with heat and tenderness of the area.Small nodules begin to form in the joint with rheumatoid arthritis and there may be deformity of the affected part of the body.
Understanding the difference between the types of arthritis and the pain that arises with it may be helpful in identifying ways to ease elderly joint aches. Irrespective of the type of arthritis, it should be investigated by a doctor and the appropriate treatment will then be prescribed. Ignoring joint pains or trying to treat it in the home environment without medical attention can lead to complications which may disable a person in the long term.