4 Common Arthritis Types and How to Relieve Joint Pain

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Around 1 in 4 adults in the United States lives with some form of arthritis every day. That’s more than 58 million people nationwide affected by more than 100 arthritis types. 

Four of the most common arthritis types include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), gout and psoriatic arthritis. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of arthritis.

Type of Arthritis: Osteoarthritis

Of the different types of arthritis, OA is the most common. Injuries such as bone fractures and ligament tears can lead to OA. But most often, the condition is degenerative. Over time, wear and tear slowly changes the structure and function of your joints.  

Cartilage covers your joints and lessens bone friction when you move. But overuse or repeated stress placed on your joints breaks down your cartilage. This causes the bones beneath your joints to rub together.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

The symptoms of OA are often felt in joints that bear or carry weight, such as your knees, hands, hips and back. Common symptoms of this type of arthritis include joint:

  • Aches and pains 
  • Stiffness, which can decrease flexibility and range of motion
  • Swelling
  • Popping or cracking sounds

How Is Osteoarthritis Treated?

OA can’t be cured. But various treatments and lifestyle changes can help relieve its symptoms and slow down its progress.

Ways to manage this type of arthritis include:

  • Exercise (e.g., strength, stretching, aerobic, balance) to reduce pain and improve flexibility
  • Physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT) or chiropractic care to ease pain, improve muscle strength, support joint stability and flexibility and help with adaptive changes to your home and work environment
  • Weight loss to reduce the added stress that excess weight places on your joints
  • Assistive devices (e.g., crutches, canes, braces and shoe inserts) to help you move more easily and safely

Various medicines can also be bought over the counter (OTC) or prescribed by your doctor to relieve joint pain and swelling. These include:

  • Analgesics such as acetaminophen and opioids
  • Corticosteroids (oral or intravenous injection)
  • Products with counterirritant compounds  — such as capsaicin, menthol and lidocaine — to stimulate your nerves and detract the focus away from your pain
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac
  • Other drugs such as the anti-seizure drug pregabalin and antidepressant duloxetine 

Although not yet FDA-approved to treat OA, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections have also emerged as a potential treatment for various arthritis types such as knee OA. Platelets [from your plasma] tend to have a higher concentration of growth factors that speed healing, and [in OA’s case] ease swelling and provide joint pain relief.

If other treatments don’t help, surgery may be able to relieve pain and restore joint mobility. This may include joint fusion to ease pain and stabilize or realign your joint. And if needed, total joint replacement with a prosthesis made of metal, plastic or ceramic may also be considered.

Type of Arthritis: Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is an autoimmune condition. This means your immune system attacks healthy tissues or cells, thinking these mean you harm. In this case, your immune system attacks your synovium, the lining of your joints.

RA usually impacts multiple joints on parallel sides of the body, with small joints (such as those in your wrists, hands and feet) affected first. 

What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Your synovium produces fluids that help your joints move smoothly. Your affected joints feel increasingly tender and painful and appear red and swollen as synovial fluid thickens.

Your joints may also feel stiff for 30 minutes or more in the morning, and you may feel very tired or have a mild fever. And although this type of arthritis often affects joints in areas such as your hands or ankles, it can also involve other body parts.

These include:

  • Dry, red and swollen eyes, which can cause pain and light sensitivity and make it harder to see clearly
  • Dry, irritated or inflamed mouth and gums
  • Small bumps (called nodules) that form under your skin in bony areas
  • Inflamed and scarred lungs, which can make it harder for you to breathe and raise your risk for lung disease
  • Inflamed blood vessels, which can damage your skin, nerves and organs (such as your heart)

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

NSAIDs can relieve joint pain and swelling while corticosteroids can do both, as well as slow down joint damage. And while this type of arthritis can’t be cured, RA has a greater chance of staying in remission when disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are started early. 

These may include:

  • Conventional DMARDs, which modify your immune system to slow down the progression of this type of arthritis
  • Biologics, a newer class of DMARDs, which target specific molecules that cause joint swelling
  • Targeted synthetic DMARDs, which may be an option if conventional or biologic DMARDs aren’t effective

Your doctor may also refer you for PT and OT. Lastly, surgery may be an option if other treatments fail to help. 

Along with joint fusion or replacement, a synovectomy to remove your inflamed synovium can relieve joint pain and improve flexibility. Repairing the tendons around your joints may also be called for.

Type of Arthritis: Gout

Gout flares up when there’s too much uric acid in your body. This can cause needle-like uric acid crystals to build up in your joints, fluids and other body tissues. 

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Your kidneys can’t get rid of enough of the uric acid your body makes. Or, it may be caused by eating foods with natural chemicals called purines, which turn into uric acid once your body breaks it down.

What Are the Symptoms of Gout?

Pain in the affected joint is the most common symptom of this type of arthritis. This can feel excruciating, especially when you move or touch the joint.

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Your joint can feel warm, swollen and tight and the skin that covers it may look shiny and red or purple. Over time, your joints may become deformed and movement may be progressively limited.

A gout flare-up may also produce:

  • Chills (rare)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever or feeling unwell in general

Painless or painful and inflamed tophi can also form. These are hard lumps of uric acid crystals that first appear in your synovium, cartilage or bones. Eventually, they form under the skin that covers your joint [and ears], as well as your kidneys and other organs.

How Is Gout Treated?

Resting, icing and using a splint to limit movement can also provide joint pain relief for this type of arthritis. You can also help prevent flare-ups by having less purine-rich foods and drinks such as:

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  • Alcoholic drinks and sugary sodas
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Red, game and organ meats (e.g., liver)
  • Various seafood such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines and scallops

And if you’re overweight or obese, losing weight may help decrease the amount of uric acid in your blood. 

Along with NSAIDs and corticosteroids, your doctor may prescribe another medicine called colchicine to ease swelling and pain. Medicines to lower uric acid levels may also help with frequent flare-ups of this type of arthritis. These include allopurinol, febuxostat and pegloticase.

Type of Arthritis: Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis occurs in around 30% of people with a chronic, autoimmune skin condition called psoriasis. It often involves joints closest to the tips of your fingers and toes, but also affects other joints such as your hips, knees and spine.

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What Are the Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis?

Like other arthritis types, psoriatic arthritis can cause joint pain, swelling, stiffness and [sometimes] warmth. And like RA, it may cause your joint to become deformed as the swelling gets more frequent and severe.

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But this type of arthritis involves fewer joints and affects one side of the body more than the other. It’s also more likely to cause:

  • Painful, sausage-like swelling of your fingers and toes
  • Foot and lower back pain
  • Tiny pits or dents on your nails, which crumble or separate from their nail beds
  • Eye swelling and redness, which can cause pain and blurry vision

How Is Psoriatic Arthritis Treated?

Various NSAIDs, corticosteroids and DMARDs used for other arthritis types may also treat psoriatic arthritis. Apremilast can also help with mild to moderate forms of this type of arthritis by impeding the actions of an enzyme involved in cell inflammation called phosphodiesterase 4.

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PT, OT and massage may also help. And joint replacement surgery may also be an option for people with severely damaged joints.