Pain management is treatment focus for this common ailment

If you are a senior citizen, you are probably familiar with the relentless burden of arthritis.

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the country, and half of all people age 65 and older suffer from some form, and some degree, of arthritis. Altogether, an estimated 50 million Americans are affected.

Arthritis attacks the joints in almost any part of the body, resulting in pain, swelling and sometimes extreme disabilities. It can have a tremendous impact on a patient’s quality of life, mental outlook, mobility and physical capacity.

If you suspect you are experiencing arthritis, here are warning signs to look for:

  • lasting joint pain
  • joint swelling
  • joint stiffness
  • tenderness or pain when touching a joint
  • problems using or moving a joint normally
  • warmth or redness on a joint

There are many different forms of arthritis but the three most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Rheumatoid arthritis typically presents itself in smaller joints, like those of the hands and feet.  Whereas osteoarthritis is typically caused by damage due to use of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a swelling of the lining of the joints.  The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is a form of autoimmune disorder where your body’s defenses against viruses and bacteria mistakenly attack the body’s own tissues.

Rheumatoid arthritis does not typically appear until after age 40, but can occur at any age, and is much more common in women than men.  Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to a number of other disorders, including osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, and lung disease.  There are many medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but there is no known cure.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common in seniors, and can result from a physical injury or infection – but mostly it’s just a product of aging. OA most often affects the hands, knees and hips, where it inflames cartilage, the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that often appears much earlier in life. With RA your body attacks the lining of the joint. It causes inflammation, which in turn cause pain, swelling and stiffness. It not only affects the joints but the organs as well.

Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. An attack can begin when crystals of uric acid form in the connective tissue/joint spaces. This leads to swelling, redness, heat, pain and stiffness in the joint.

Although each from of arthritis is handled a little differently there are some common treatment choices:

  • rest
  • exercise
  • eating a healthy well balanced diet
  • learning the right way to use and protect your joints

Pain relief medication, surgery and natural or homeopathic therapies have also helped millions of arthritis sufferers, although success is often very individualistic. And keep in mind – prescription drug abuse, often involving pain management drugs, is a growing problem among the elderly.


Gout is a specific kind of arthritis caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood.  It most commonly causes arthritis to appear in the big toe, but can cause pain and swelling in other joints as well.  Unlike other types of arthritis, the development of gout is very often a direct result of diet, and treatment often relies on avoiding foods that cause joint pain due to gout.  The following are a list of good gout foods to avoid:

  • Shellfish
  • Beer
  • Red Meat
  • Turkey
  • Soda/Sugary Drinks
  • Liver and Organ Meats

Learn More

There are numerous educational and support organizations that deal with arthritis and those affected by it. The best place to start is the Arthritis Foundation, the nation’s largest non-profit aimed at preventing and managing arthritis.

The magazine Arthritis Today, published by the foundation, is also a useful resource.

For information on the latest research into arthritis, check out the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

In Canada, the Arthritis Society is the principal advocate for education and research, and helping people manage symptoms.