Understanding Arthritis: How Arthritis Affects the Body

Arthritis is often considered to be an elderly disease, but while it is more common among the elderly, it can actually affect people of all ages. While depending on the type of arthritis, the effect on the body can greatly differ, it most often affects the joints causing inflammation, swelling, and discomfort.

What Are Joints?

Joints act as connectors between two or more bones, securing them together and usually allowing the bones to freely move without damaging one another. Depending on the joint, the degree of motion could be very large, like in the shoulder, or it could be very small, such as in the spine. However, some joints, such as those found in the skull do not allow any movement at all.

There are several different types of joints, but in regards to arthritis, it most often affects synovial joints. Synovial Joints are joints that have a very thin layer of tissue in between them, which is called the synovial membrane. The synovial membrane surrounds both bones, creating a sac filled with a lubricating fluid, called synovial fluid.

The bones are also surrounded by cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber. Not only does the synovial fluid help provide lubrication, but it also contains elements that help keep the cartilage healthy.

Some synovial joints allow rather full range of motion, in multiple directions. These types of joints are most often ball-and-socket joints, with one bone in the joint being rounded and the other shaped to almost cup the rounded edge. The hips and shoulders are examples of ball and socket joints. Other synovial joints, such as the elbow are designed to only allow movements in certain directions. These joints are called hinge joints.

How Does Arthritis Affect the Joints?

Arthritis can affect the joints in a number of ways, but most often the cartilage begins to wear down, causing the bones to directly rub against one another. In some cases, pieces of cartilage or bone can also break off, which lead to inflammation and swelling in the joint.

What is Inflammation?

One common symptom of arthritis is inflammation, which is actually a method of self defense used by the body to fight infection. When the body finds an infection, the immune system releases white blood cells which are designed to find infections and kill them, with part of this process causing swelling and often discomfort.

Most often, inflammation causes the infected area to become red, while also often feeling hot, swelling, and causing pain. In many cases, the inflammation found in arthritis is caused by small pieces of cartilage and bone breaking off.

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