Your complete online medical source

Navigate by theme:


Return to index

Bone, Muscle, and Joint Problems


Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Arthritis refers to a variety of joint problems that cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. Simply put, arthritis means inflammation of a joint. Arthritis can occur at any age, but it affects older people the most.

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. The chart describes 3 common kinds of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and can usually be successfully managed at home. Rheumatoid arthritis and gout will improve with a combination of self-care and professional care.

Common Types of Arthritis






Breakdown of joint cartilage.

Pain, stiffness, and swelling; common in fingers, hips, knees, and back.

Most common in women and men between the ages of 45 and 90.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Inflammation of the membrane lining the joint (synovium).

Pain, stiffness, and swelling in multiple joints; joints may be "hot" and red; common in hands, wrists, and feet.

Occurs most often around age 30 to 40; more common in women.


Build-up of uric acid crystals in the joint fluid.

Sudden onset of burning pain, stiffness, and swelling; common in big toe, ankle, knee, wrist, and elbow.

Most common in men over 40; may be aggravated by alcohol and organ meats.

Little is known about what causes most types of arthritis. Some seem to run in families; others seem to be related to imbalances in body chemistry or immune system problems. Many arthritis problems are the result of injury or long-term "wear and tear" on the joints.


Top of Page

It may not be possible to prevent arthritis, but you can prevent a lot of pain by being kind to your joints. This is especially important if you already have arthritis.

  • If activities that jar your body (such as running) cause pain, try activities that involve less impact (such as swimming).

  • Control your weight.

  • Exercise regularly.

While activities that repeatedly jar your body can increase joint pain, regular exercise can relieve or prevent joint pain. Exercise is needed to nourish joint cartilage and remove waste products from the joints. It strengthens the muscles around the joints, providing support for the joints and reducing injuries caused by fatigue. Stretching maintains your range of pain-free motion.

Home Treatment

Top of Page

  • A warm shower or bath may help relieve morning stiffness. Try to avoid sitting still after a warm shower or bath.

  • If the joint is not swollen, apply moist heat for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. Do not apply heat to a swollen, inflamed joint.

  • Put each of your joints gently through its full range of motion 1 to 2 times each day.

  • Rest sore joints. Avoid activities that put weight or strain on the joints for a few days. Take short rest breaks from your regular activities throughout the day.

  • Apply cold packs to inflamed, swollen joints for 10 to 15 minutes, once an hour. Cold will help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

  • Regular exercise is important to help maintain strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints. Strengthening exercises prevent the muscle loss that leads to weakness. Try low-impact activities, such as swimming, water aerobics, biking, or walking.

  • Acetaminophen can provide safe pain relief for osteoarthritis. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may help ease pain but can cause stomach upset. Do not combine anti-inflammatory medications.

  • Enroll in an arthritis self-management program. Participants in these programs usually have less pain and fewer limitations on their activities.

When to Call a Health Professional

Top of Page

  • If you have fever or a skin rash along with severe joint pain.

  • If the joint is so painful that you cannot use it.

  • If there is sudden, unexplained swelling, redness, or pain in any joint.

  • If there is severe pain and swelling in multiple joints.

  • If you experience sudden back pain that occurs with weakness in the legs or loss of bowel or bladder control.

  • If joint pain continues for more than 6 weeks and Home Treatment is not helping.

  • If you experience side effects (stomach pain, nausea, persistent heartburn, or dark, tarry stools) from aspirin or other arthritis medications. Do not exceed recommended doses of nonprescription medications without your doctor's advice.


Top of Page