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What is arthritis?

Arthritis isn’t a single disease, but rather a term used to describe a range of diseases that affect the joints

Common symptoms of arthritis include: 

  • joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • reduced movement of the joints
  • warmth and redness of the skin over the affected joint
  • muscle wasting and weakness around the affected joint

How do you get arthritis?

There are many different types of arthritis, but the two most common are: 

  • osteoarthritis 
  • rheumatoid arthritis


Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis and affects around 8.75 million people in the UK. Osteoarthritis can affect anyone, but it is more common if you are:

  • over 45 years of age 
  • female
  • overweight
  • have a family history of osteoarthritis
  • have a previous injury to the joint
  • have a previous or current condition that affects the joints like gout or rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it is most common in the hands, spine, knees, and hips. 

Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that lines the joint starts to roughen and thin out causing swelling and inflammation. When the body tries to repair the damage, it leads to the formation of osteophytes, tiny growths of new bone that develop at the ends of bones. Loss of cartilage causes the bones to rub against each other, stretching the joint capsule and pushing the bones out of their natural position. 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include: 

  • joint pain and tenderness
  • stiffness in the joint
  • a grating or crackling sound in the joint
  • joint pain and stiffness in the morning that lasts less than 30 minutes

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)  is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects around 1% of the population in the UK. 

It is more common in: 

  • females
  • people between 30 and 50 years of age

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues or organs. In Rheumatoid arthritis, this causes pain and inflammation in the joints, damage to the bone and joint tissue, and changes to the shape of the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis normally starts in the small joints of the hands and fingers before progressing to larger joints. It can also cause damage to other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, nerves, eyes, and skin. Early treatment for rheumatoid arthritis can help prevent permanent joint damage. 

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include: 

  • painful, swollen joints
  • swelling and stiffness of the joints in the morning that lasts more than 30 minutes
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness and lack of energy)
  • feeling generally unwell

How to get rid of arthritis

There is currently no cure for arthritis and treatment involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medical treatments, supportive treatments, or surgery.  

Treatment for osteoarthritis

If your symptoms are mild, they may improve with some simple changes to your lifestyle. Some lifestyle changes that can help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis include: 

  • losing weight if needed and maintaining a healthy weight
  • taking regular exercise
  • wearing appropriate footwear
  • reducing the strain on your joints during daily activities


For more severe symptoms, you may need medications to manage your symptoms. Some medications for symptoms of osteoarthritis include: 

  • painkillers such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or stronger, prescription painkillers
  • steroid injections


In addition to medication, supportive treatments can help. These include: 

  • physiotherapy 
  • occupational therapy 
  • use of assistive devices such as special footwear, leg braces, and supports


In cases of severe arthritis where medication and supportive treatments haven’t worked, surgery may be necessary. This may include: 

  • joint replacement (arthroplasty)
  • joint fusing
  • osteotomy (an operation where bone is added or removed around the joint)


Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis 

Like osteoarthritis, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, and treatment is aimed at managing symptoms and preventing long-term damage to joints and organs. 

Treatment options include medication, supportive treatments, and surgery. 

Medical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include: 

  • disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARs) like methotrexate help to block damaging chemicals released by the immune system
  • painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • steroids 

Supportive treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include: 

  • physiotherapy 
  • occupational therapy

Surgical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include: 

  • carpal tunnel release
  • tendon release
  • removal of inflamed joint tissue (arthroscopy) 
  • joint replacement (arthroplasty)


There are many different types of arthritis, and the right treatment will depend on your diagnosis. Arthritis is a long-term, but normally manageable condition that needs early treatment to prevent it from getting worse. If you have symptoms of arthritis, speak to a doctor about the right treatment for you. 



Arthritis Foundation: What Is Arthritis? June 9th 2022 (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

 NHS: Overview. Arthritis September 8th 2022 (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

Versus Arthritis: Arthritis (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

PubMed:  Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Brief Overview of the Treatment March 2019 (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

National Institute of for Health and Care Excellence: Rheumatoid arthritis. How common is it? April 2020  (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

NHS: Osteoarthritis treatment  August 19th 2019 (Accessed October 10th 2022) 

NHS: Treatment. Rheumatoid arthritis August 28th 2019  Accessed October 10th 2022)

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