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Types of Arthritis, Diagnosis & Treatment

At its Latin roots, arthritis is a word meaning joint inflammation, which today represents over 100 different conditions - ranging from the less serious tendonitis to the debilitating and painful rheumatoid arthritis.

The inflammation associated with arthritis is actually the body's natural response to injury - alerting those affected to the "troubled area" with warning signs of redness, swelling, a sensation of heat, and pain. Arthritis affects both the young and old alike. While genetics, lifestyle and activities during one's life all play a role in arthritis and who becomes affected by it, research studies continue to try and identify more specific causes of the condition in order to facilitate an early diagnosis and prevent severe tissue degeneration.

While arthritis generally causes inflammation around the joint, the end result is joint and musculoskeletal pain, stiffness and swelling. There are more than 100 joints connecting the body's bones and allowing broad range of motion. The various types of joints responsible for range of motion include: the "ball-and-socket," such as that which is evident in the hips and shoulders; saddle joints, which connect the thumb to the hand; hinge joints such as those in the fingers; and pivot joints, such as those which facilitate movement in the wrist. The bones and joints are bound together by ligaments and covered with a smooth, slick substance called cartilage.

Cartilage is a strong buoyant material that serves as a type of shock absorber - allowing the bones to glide easily over one another and protecting adjoining bones with a cushion. A joint cavity, which is enclosed by a flexible capsule with an inner lining called the synovium, lies between the bones and provides enough space for the bones to move. The synovium produces a lubricating fluid that nourishes the joint.

Prompted by any number of conditions, arthritis begins with inflammation within a joint - initially impeding optimal joint function and eventually, if untreated, causing severe tissue degeneration within the joint and possibly joint deformity. And if left undiagnosed and untreated, some types of arthritis can cause irreversible damage to bones, organs and skin.

While it is well known that the risk of arthritis increases with age, nearly three out of every five patients diagnosed are under the age of 65.

The most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and posttraumatic arthritis.