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Types of Arthritis

Arthritis is the inflammation of joints in the body that can cause pain, stiffness, swelling and issues with mobility. There are over 100 types of arthritis; all of which cause varying degrees of joint pain to sufferers. Below you will find summaries of the most common forms of arthritis:

Diagram showing the difference between a healthy and an arthritic knee joint

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs were there is gradual degradation (wearing away) of cartilage within a joint. Cartilage is the smooth surface covering a bone which helps it glide against the connecting the bone, as well as acting as a shock absorber.

The removal of this cartilage leads to bone on bone contact which results in pain and inflammation that affects mobility. It is known as a 'wear and tear' condition affects the older generation, though those who have suffered knee injuries (such as ligament damage) are more susceptible.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that usually affects the back and spine. Inflammation along the spine’s joints and ligaments cause pain in the lower back and buttocks, which can spread up the spine to the chest and neck. In extreme cases of AS, the spine can ‘fuse’ together as the vertebrae begin to grow together, causing problems with moving the back.

The exact cause of AS is unknown, but it’s believed that there is a link between the condition and the HLA-B27 gene. Your GP will refer you to a rheumatologist for tests if they suspect you have AS. Tests can include blood and imaging tests.

Like other types of arthritis, there is no cure for AS but treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms and delay or prevent further damage. Most sufferers see their condition improve, allowing them to remain independent, while others are left disabled as a result of the fusing of their backbone.

Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis (CS) is arthritis in the neck caused by the ‘wear and tear’ of bones and tissues as we grow older. The most common symptoms of CS are:

  • Neck pain, which can flare up and go away
  • Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
  • Headaches, which begin at the spine and move to the forehead

It can also cause trapped nerves, leading to pain in the arms, pins and needles in the arms and legs, loss of feeling in your hands and legs and loss of coordination and difficulty walking. In serious cases, you can suffer from cervical radiculopathy, which causes a sharp pain in the arm known as a brachialgia. You can also have a bone or slipped disc interfere with a nerve or suffer from cervical myelopathy, which occurs when the bones in the spinal canal close in and squash the spinal cord inside.

In some cases, CS sufferers experience no noticeable symptoms and may not be aware that they have the condition at all.

Your GP will carry out a physical examination to check for symptoms and see if you are able to move your head. If they are unsure of your diagnosis, they are able to refer you for an X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or CT (computerised tomography) scan. There are a number of treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, that may be prescribed by your doctor.

Diagram of the human spine

Enteropathic Arthritis

Enteropathic arthritis (EA) is a form of arthritis related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which causes pain in the limb joints and the spine.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a type of arthritis that affects the body’s muscles, ligaments and tendons, potentially causing pain all over the body. The exact cause is unknown, but there are theories that relate it to a chemical imbalance in the brain that alters the way the nervous system processes pain from all around the body.

Genes inherited from parents have also been suggested as a trigger for fibromyalgia, as well as a stressful event that has caused a physical or emotional response, such as:

  • Being injured
  • Catching an infection
  • Having an operation
  • Giving birth
  • A relationship breakdown
  • The death of a loved one

The condition is likely to develop in more women than men between the ages of 30-50, although, it can occur in people of any age, including children. However, it’s unclear how many people actually suffer from fibromyalgia as there is no specific test for the condition and symptoms can often be mistaken for other illnesses, like chronic fatigue syndrome.

Like other types of arthritis, fibromyalgia is incurable but treatments, including medication, therapy and exercise, can help relieve the symptoms and make the condition bearable.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that is caused by excessive amounts of uric acid in the body. This liquid can build up in joints (usually the big toe) and causes intense pain, redness and swelling. Men over 30 and women who have just experienced the menopause are more susceptible to gout, showing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the joint
  • Tenderness and overheating around the joint
  • Swelling in and around the affected joint
  • Red, shiny skin over the joint

Symptoms tend to escalate rapidly, lasting between three and 10 days, after which the pain should pass and the joint should return to normal. However, it is likely that if you’ve had gout before then you will face another attack at some point in your life. Other complications include kidney stones, small firm lumps of uric acid and permanent joint damage.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a painful inflammation that can occur in any of the body’s joints and often develops after psoriasis - the skin condition that causes patches of red, itchy and scaly skin. Like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common example of arthritis, which causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The condition is most likely to affect the hands, feet and wrists, but problems may be felt in other parts of the body too. Tiredness and weight loss are also associated with this type of arthritis.

As rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, this means your immune system, which usually protects the body, attacks it instead, breaking down cells that line your joints. This makes them swollen, stiff and painful. It is not clear what causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints but certain people are more likely to suffer from it. These people include:

  • Women
  • People with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Smokers

Like most types of arthritis, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but early diagnosis and access to treatment can reduce the number of times it flares up, allowing you to enjoy day-to-day life. Treatment available includes medication taken for the long term, supportive therapies, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and surgery.

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