Arthritis 101: What You Need to Know

Arthritis is not a single disease but a complex family of more than 100 inflammatory conditions affecting the musculoskeletal systems of men, women, and children of all ages. Even though it is the leading cause of disability in the US and affects more than 50 million Americans, arthritis is poorly understood.

While there’s currently no cure for arthritis, understanding the disease and how diet can help manage symptoms can make a world of difference. Here we review the most common types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common types of arthritis that occurs when cartilage in the joints begins to break down. Without that cushion, the bones rub against one another, causing symptoms like stiffness, joint pain, and loss of movement, especially in the knees, hips, and lower back. Sore or stiff joints may be worse after not enough or too much activity, and may improve with rest or gentle movement. The pain of OA is often worst toward the end of the day.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder, which means your body’s immune system turns on you. In RA, the joints are the target of immune attack. This causes inflammation that can damage the joints and other organs. RA symptoms can vary from person to person and from day to day, and commonly include pain, fatigue, and joints that are warm, swollen, and reddish, especially in the small bones of the hand and wrist. RA flares, or sudden worsening of symptoms, can last anywhere from several days to several months.

Juvenile arthritis (JA) refers to a number of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that occur in children age 16 and younger. The most common of these is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or arthritis of spontaneous or unknown origin. JA is an area of intense research and may be caused by an interaction of genes and foods, toxins, or allergies.

Psoriatic arthritis is arthritis that occurs in people with psoriasis, a skin condition that causes red, inflamed patches on the skin. Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis may be milder than other types of arthritis, affecting only a few joints, particularly those at the ends of the fingers and toes. But in some people, the arthritis may be more severe and cause stiffness, burning, and pain in the lower spine and sacrum. Psoriasis may worsen at the same time that arthritis symptoms flare.

Gout, or gouty arthritis, occurs when uric acid accumulates in the blood and causes painful inflammation of the joints. Joints affected by gout may suddenly become warm, red, swollen, and so sensitive that even a light touch is excruciating. Gout may be acute and affect only one joint such as the big toe, knee, or ankle. Or it may be chronic and cause repeated episodes of pain, damage, and loss of movement in multiple joints. Tophi, lumps under the skin made of uric acid crystals, may accumulate around joints affected by chronic gout.

Learn about the best and worst foods for the different types of arthritis and easy-to-make anti-inflammatory home remedies.