Arthritis: causes, symptoms and treatment

December 15, 2021
7 minute read

Arthritis is a very common condition, known for causing pain and stiffness around the joints. Did you know it can affect adults and children of all ages?

It is believed more than 10 million people in the UK suffer with arthritis or other very similar conditions affecting the joints. Keep reading as we explore the symptoms of arthritis, as well as the different causes, types and treatment options.

Different types of arthritis

There are many different types of arthritis. The two main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. If you experience any pain around your joints that is constant and doesn’t go away after a few days, it is advised you see your GP. Although there is no cure for arthritis, early treatment and support can greatly reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Osteoarthritis is more common in women and usually affects the larger joints such as the hips and knees, but can sometimes affect the hands. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from mild to severe. They include swelling, tenderness, and a crackling or grating sound when moving the affected joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a long-term condition that affects smaller joints such as wrists, hands and feet. It is a type of auto-immune condition which means your immune system is mistakenly attacking your joints. There may be periods where symptoms appear worse which is called a flare-up.

For more information on the different types, please visit the NHS website.

Symptoms of arthritis

There are many different symptoms with arthritis, and each will vary on both the type of arthritis and the individual.

The main symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness around joints
  • Inflammation (red, warm or hot, swollen joints)
  • Restricted movement of the joints
  • Weakness and muscle wasting

It is important to have an accurate diagnosis from your GP for arthritis as there are many different types. For other types of arthritis and related conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia, treatment is individualised and given by your GP or specialist.

Causes of arthritis

There is no exact known cause for arthritis but there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing arthritis. If it’s in your family history, you may have an increased risk, although no gene has been identified to support that.

Other factors that could affect your risk are:

  • Previous joint injury
  • Other related conditions such as gout
  • Age  
  • Obesity as excess weight puts extra strain on your joints
  • Being a woman has an increased risk
  • Smoking

Treatment of arthritis

To date, there is no cure for arthritis, but many treatments are available to slow it down and manage symptoms to help improve your quality of life. Treatment of arthritis is made up of medication, lifestyle changes such as gentle exercise, or sometimes surgery.

Osteoarthritis treatment involves lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular exercise. You might think if your joints are painful that doing exercise will be difficult or make arthritis worse, but in fact exercise helps build muscle and strengthen the joints, which usually improves symptoms. Non-weight bearing exercise is also good for arthritis and examples include cycling and swimming.

Swimming is a good exercise option for someone with arthritis

Medication used for Osteoarthritis are pain relief medicines such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory's (NSAIDs), as well as different types of opioids, steroid injections or a capsaicin cream.  

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment is used to slow the progression of the condition, prevent joint damage and pain, and to enable you to be as active as possible. Treatment options include medication, physiotherapy, and surgery. Early treatment and physiotherapy support can reduce your risk of joint damage and the impact of the condition.

There are two main types of medicine treatment that your GP will prescribe you. For more information on these, visit the NHS arthritis website. In addition to these, you may wish to take medication to relieve pain such as paracetamol or co-codamol.

Useful resources

NHS - an overview of arthritis

Versus Arthritis - support and info from the UK's largest arthritis charity

If you have any questions about arthritis, or want to know more about the condition, get in touch with our friendly pharmacy team who can offer you advice and guidance.

Content last reviewed on:
December 15, 2021
Next review date:
December 15, 2023
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