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The Early Signs of Arthritis: Recognize Them Before It’s Too Late

Don't Ignore the Early Signs of Arthritis: Recognize Them Before It’s Too Late

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The number of people suffering from arthritis is staggering. Inflammation, discomfort, stiffness, and restricted movement are all symptoms. Arthritis is a debilitating condition that can hinder daily life and lead to permanent joint damage. In order to effectively treat and manage arthritis symptoms, it is essential to recognize the earliest indicators.

We'll go through what to look for, how to treat your symptoms, and when to see a doctor if you suspect you have arthritis. In addition, we will share practical advice for avoiding and managing arthritis.

What is Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis are significant, but first we need to define arthritis and see how it manifests in the body. The term "arthritis" is used to describe more than one hundred distinct disorders affecting the joints. Arthritis can manifest in a number of different ways, but osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) are the most frequent forms.

The wear and tear of protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones over time leads to OA, the most prevalent form of arthritis. With RA, the body's immune system mistakenly targets the joints, resulting in inflammation and pain. People who have the autoimmune skin disorder psoriasis are more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

Early Signs of Arthritis

Early signs of arthritis can be subtle and may develop slowly over time. Therefore, it's important to pay attention to changes in your body and seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Joint Pain and Stiffness

Joint pain and stiffness are hallmark symptoms of arthritis. You may experience pain, swelling, and tenderness in one or more joints, particularly after a period of inactivity or overuse. You may also notice stiffness in your joints, making it difficult to move them.

Swelling in Joints

Inflammation is a common characteristic of arthritis, and it can cause swelling in the affected joints. This swelling can make it difficult to move your joints and may be accompanied by redness and warmth in the affected area.

Decreased Range of Motion

As arthritis progresses, you may notice a decrease in your range of motion. This means you may not be able to move your joints as easily as you used to, making it difficult to perform daily activities such as getting dressed or doing household chores.

Fatigue and Weakness

Arthritis can cause fatigue and weakness, which can be debilitating for some individuals. You may feel tired or weak even after getting enough rest or sleep.

Morning Stiffness

Morning stiffness is a common symptom of arthritis, particularly in the hands and feet. You may feel stiff and sore when you wake up, and it may take some time for your joints to loosen up.

Numbness and Tingling

Some types of arthritis, such as RA and PsA, can cause nerve compression, leading to numbness and tingling in the affected joints. This can be particularly noticeable in the hands and feet.

Diagnosing Arthritis

If you're experiencing symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain, stiffness, or swelling, it's important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage your symptoms and prevent long-term joint damage. Here are some of the methods doctors use to diagnose arthritis:

Medical history and physical examination: Your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history, including any previous injuries or illnesses, and perform a physical examination to check for signs of joint damage or inflammation. They may also ask you about your symptoms, including when they started, what makes them better or worse, and how they are affecting your daily activities.

Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, and CT scans, can help your doctor see the extent of joint damage and determine the type of arthritis you have. X-rays can show joint damage and narrowing, while MRI and CT scans can provide more detailed images of the soft tissues in and around the joint.

Blood tests: Blood tests can help your doctor determine the type of arthritis you have and rule out other possible causes of joint pain and inflammation. For example, a blood test can detect rheumatoid factor, which is present in many cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

In some cases, your doctor may also recommend a joint aspiration, which involves removing a small sample of fluid from the affected joint for further testing.

It's important to be honest with your doctor about your symptoms and any other health conditions you may have. This can help ensure an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment plan for managing your symptoms.

Arthritis and Joint Supplements

If you live with Arthritis or joint pain, make sure you read our expert reviews and recommendations of the best supplements for joint pain. Supplements can improve joint health and reduce the symptoms and pain from Arthritis.

Treatment Options for Arthritis

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:


There are several types of medications that can be used to treat arthritis, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologics. NSAIDs can help reduce pain and inflammation, while DMARDs and biologics can slow down the progression of the disease and prevent joint damage.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain, and increase muscle strength. Your physical therapist may recommend exercises and stretches to help improve your range of motion and flexibility.

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices such as canes, braces, and splints can help support and protect your joints, making it easier to perform daily activities.

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle changes can also help manage arthritis symptoms. For example, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce stress on your joints, while regular exercise can help improve joint mobility and muscle strength.


In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace damaged joints. Joint replacement surgery is a common treatment for OA, and it involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial joint.

Coping with Arthritis

Managing the symptoms of arthritis can be challenging, but there are many ways to cope and improve your quality of life. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

Support groups: Joining a support group can be a valuable resource for people with arthritis. You can connect with others who understand what you're going through and share experiences, tips, and advice. Many support groups also offer educational resources and information about new treatments and research.

Assistive devices: There are many assistive devices that can help make daily activities easier and less painful for people with arthritis. For example, jar openers, reachers, and grip aids can help with tasks like opening jars and bottles, reaching high shelves, and holding objects. Walkers, canes, and orthotics can also provide support and help with balance and mobility.

Emotional and mental health: Living with a chronic condition like arthritis can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. It's important to prioritize self-care and seek professional help if needed. Some strategies that may be helpful include mindfulness meditation, therapy, and stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing or yoga.

Examples of assistive devices that can be helpful for people with arthritis include:

  • Ergonomic kitchen tools, such as knives with easy-grip handles or electric can openers.
  • Reachers and grabbers, which can help with picking up objects from the floor or reaching high shelves.
  • Shoe inserts or custom orthotics, which can provide cushioning and support for the feet and joints.
  • Mobility aids, such as walkers, canes, or motorized scooters, which can help with balance and mobility.
  • Adaptive clothing, which can make it easier to get dressed and undressed, and reduce pain and discomfort.

Preventing Arthritis

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent arthritis, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the condition. These include:

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese can put extra stress on your joints, leading to increased wear and tear. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing OA.

Staying Active

Regular exercise can help keep your joints flexible and reduce your risk of developing arthritis. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

Eating a Healthy Diet

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help reduce inflammation in the body and support overall health.

Protecting Your Joints

Taking steps to protect your joints, such as using proper lifting techniques and wearing supportive shoes, can help reduce your risk of injury and prevent joint damage.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the early signs of arthritis, it's important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Early treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent long-term joint damage. You should also see a doctor if you have persistent joint pain or stiffness, as this may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Arthritis Myths and Misconceptions

Arthritis is a complex and often misunderstood condition. Here are some common myths and misconceptions about arthritis:

Arthritis only affects the elderly: While it's true that arthritis is more common in older adults, it can affect people of all ages, including children. In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis, and some of them are more common in younger people.

There's nothing you can do to prevent or treat arthritis: While there is no cure for most types of arthritis, there are many things you can do to manage your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. This may include lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and eating a balanced diet, as well as medications and other treatments.

Only overweight people get arthritis: While excess weight can increase your risk of developing certain types of arthritis, it's not the only factor. Arthritis can affect people of all shapes and sizes, and there are many other factors that can contribute to the development of the disease, including genetics, injury, and inflammation.

By understanding and dispelling these myths, we can better understand arthritis and take proactive steps to manage our health. It's important to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about arthritis, and to work with them to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs.

Arthritis and Its Impact on Daily Life

Arthritis can have a significant impact on your daily life, making it difficult to perform even simple tasks. Here are some ways to manage work and daily activities with arthritis:

Managing work and daily activities with arthritis: It's important to find ways to modify your work and daily activities to reduce stress on your joints. This may include taking frequent breaks, using ergonomic tools and devices, and changing your work or activity level as needed. It's also important to listen to your body and avoid overexertion.

Adapting your home to better accommodate arthritis: Modifying your home can make a big difference in your ability to perform daily tasks. This may include installing grab bars and handrails, using non-slip flooring, and using devices like jar openers and reaching aids. It's also important to keep your home clean and organized to avoid falls.

Traveling with arthritis: Traveling can be challenging with arthritis, but there are ways to make it easier. This may include requesting special accommodations at the airport or on a plane, bringing along assistive devices like a cane or walker, and taking breaks as needed during long car trips.

By taking proactive steps to manage your arthritis, you can maintain your independence and quality of life. It's important to work with your doctor and other healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your individual needs and goals. With the right support and tools, you can continue to enjoy your daily activities and live life to the fullest.

Understanding the Social and Emotional Impact of Arthritis

Arthritis not only affects the body, but it can also have a significant impact on a person's social and emotional well-being. Here are some common issues that individuals with arthritis may face:

Dealing with pain and fatigue: Chronic pain and fatigue can make it difficult to engage in social activities and maintain relationships. It's important to communicate your needs with your loved ones and plan activities that are manageable for you.

Relationship and intimacy issues: Arthritis can affect intimate relationships due to pain, mobility issues, and fatigue. It's important to communicate with your partner about your needs and limitations, and to find ways to adapt your physical relationship as needed.

Coping with depression and anxiety: Living with a chronic illness can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. It's important to seek support from friends, family, and healthcare professionals. This may include counseling or therapy, medication, and stress-reduction techniques.

It's important to remember that you are not alone in dealing with the social and emotional impact of arthritis. Support groups and online forums can provide a sense of community and understanding. By taking care of your emotional well-being and seeking support as needed, you can improve your overall quality of life.

When to Seek Medical Help for Arthritis

It's important to seek medical help for arthritis if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

Persistent joint pain: If you have been experiencing joint pain for more than two weeks, it's important to see a doctor. Joint pain can be a sign of arthritis, and early treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent further damage.

Difficulty performing daily tasks: If arthritis is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks such as dressing, cooking, or cleaning, it's time to seek medical help. Occupational therapy can help you learn new ways to perform these tasks and manage your symptoms.

Changes in joint appearance: If you notice swelling, redness, or deformities in your joints, it's important to see a doctor. These can be signs of joint damage and require medical attention.

Difficulty sleeping due to joint pain: If joint pain is keeping you awake at night, it's important to seek medical help. Lack of sleep can worsen arthritis symptoms and affect your overall health.

Remember, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage arthritis symptoms and prevent further joint damage. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.


Realizing you have arthritis and getting treatment early can make a world of difference in your ability to manage symptoms and enjoy life. See a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan if you're experiencing any of the signs and symptoms discussed here.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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