There are a number of reasons why your joints may be stiff or ache. A lot of people think they have ‘arthritis’ when their joints become stiff and ache – this isn’t always true. If your muscles and joints have been aching for less than 4 weeks and you had a bug during that time, it is possible that your aches are due to a recent viral illness and simply need time to recover. If your muscles have been aching longer, but there is significant stress or problems in your life, it could be that the muscle and joint aches are your body’s way of telling you that you are exhausted and that you need to get some sort of control back into your life. Having said that though, it could also mean arthritis – and there are different types of arthritis – some worse than others.
- If you have stiff aching joints for more than 4 weeks where the stiffness lasts more than 30 minutes, go and see your doctor.
- If you suddenly develop a very painful joint, that is either swollen or hot or both, then go and see your GP on the same day.
- If you have injured a joint which then becomes very painful and swollen – go and see your GP on the same day.
Types of Arthritis
There are two main types of arthritis which we will briefly talk about here.
- Osteoarthritis – This is the type of arthritis that often the elderly get. It’s often referred to as the ‘wear and tear’ type of arthritis. Basically, over the years, the joints have worn out. Eventually, they may need replacing with metal ones but even worn out joints can still last you a long time. In these instances, your GP will give you medication to help calm down and inflammation and pain. Not everyone who has osteoarthritis needs a metal joint replacement – that’s because a GP can do a lot for you before you ever reach that stage (if indeed you ever do!). Did you also know that when joints wear out, the body gradually tries to repair them and make them pain-free again – but this can take several years to happen. In other words, there are people out there with badly worn out joints but who are nevertheless pain-free. Our bodies are truly remarkable!
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – this is the arthritis that we tend to worry about. It’s where the body ends up trying to destroy its own joints – the reason for this is unknown. If untreated. it can be very crippling. This type of arthritis often starts in younger people (age 30-40). But the good thing is that with early identification and treatment, this type of arthritis (with medication) can be controlled for years. Nowadays, with the right treatment, Rheumatoid Arthritis patients are no longer crippled or wheelchair bound and can live near-normal lives. Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis experience what we call the three S’s:
- Early morning joint stiffness lasting over 30 minutes
- Persistent swelling of one joint or more
- Pain when the joints are squeezed