Understanding arthritis — What it is and how to treat it

By Dr. Gerald King | Aug 18, 2014
Dr. Gerald King

Patients tend to have a poor understanding of what exactly arthritis is. Perhaps because the word ends in “itis,” they think of it as related to tendonitis or bursitis, both of which are usually relatively easily treatable; they think that arthritis can be simply taken care of as well. They often even say, “I hope my knee pain is only arthritis.” The truth is that in spite of the marvelous treatments we have for many things in medicine, we have yet to come up with a simple way to reverse or stop the progression of arthritis.

So what is arthritis?

First an anatomy lesson. On the ends of all of our bones, there is a smooth very thin layer of cells that are called cartilage. Most of you have seen cartilage on the end of a chicken or deer bone. That smooth layer of cells is what allows our joints to move so freely. It also protects the ends of the bone, and lubricates the joint.

When that layer of cells, which has no nerve endings, becomes damaged or worn, the ends of the bone become exposed over time. Since the wearing away of the cartilage layer takes years, the symptoms can be minimal until the bone is finally exposed and rather suddenly we develop symptoms. When our joints rub together or come under stress/strain, such as in weight bearing activities, we start to experience pain from pressure on the underlying bone, which does have nerve endings.

Exactly why this process takes place remains somewhat of a mystery with many factors contributing including trauma, genetics, and obesity etc. playing a role. There are close to 100 types of arthritis, all of which over time can progress to the point where raw bone is rubbing against raw bone causing significant pain.

Arthritis affects the hands most commonly, followed by the knee, hip and shoulder.

Statistics show that approximately 30 million people in the United States are affected by arthritis and over a billion dollars a year is spent on treatment. If we live to be 85, 50 percent of us will have disabling knee arthritis.

Come and find out which treatments do and which do not make life better for those of us suffering from arthritis at a free seminar being held from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26, at the Haywood Regional Health and Fitness Center.

Those interested in attending this seminar may register by calling 452-8883 or by visiting www.haymed.org/seminar.

Dr. Gerald King is an orthopedic surgeon with Western Carolina Orthopaedic Specialists.