Defining Arthritis

Ever felt that nagging joint pain and wondered what’s really going on? You’re not alone. Arthritis is often thrown around as a catch-all term for joint pain, but did you know there are technically over 100 conditions that the CDC describes as “arthritis”? Let’s break down this complex topic and get to the root cause of what might be ailing you.

“Arthritis” simply means “joint” + “inflammation.” So, in a way, it is more of a symptom of something else – always ask WHY is there inflammation? The causes can be very different, so the treatment needs to be tailored to the underlying problem.

Current Conventional Treatment

In today’s modern medicine, most treatment revolves around soothing the symptoms, but not addressing the root cause. It’s like putting out the fire in your kitchen, without addressing that leaky gas. You’ll continue “treating” the pain forever if you don’t take time to figure out the underlying problem.

Sadly, most people are rushed through their doctor appointments, without having time to explore the many potential factors behind the pain. Despite “pain” being so common and so constant, it really is not straight forward! There is not a one-cause reason for pain, so there is not a one-solution answer. You can read the deep science behind pain issues in an older post, Pain: Causes and Cures, for some great starting points.

Instead, doctors will typically recommend

  • Heat or ice
  • Physical Therapy
  • Medications/Injections
  • Surgery

But other than the PT, none of those address the real root cause (and even PT can only go so far, since the physical issue is only one possible problem)

Yes, joint pain can be from muscles that are weak, joints that are unstable, or general bad posture or exercise form. But it can also be from bad shoes, certain medications, hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, GI issues, past injury or surgery, genetics, autoimmune conditions, and more.

The Many Manifestations of Arthritis

Conventional medicine classifies “arthritis” based on additional factors, such as what tissues are involved, which joint, or what additional symptoms are also present.

Most commonly, people think about

  • Osteoarthritis (bone + arthritis)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (rheum, or fluids/swelling + arthritis)
  • Psoriatic Arthritis (Arthritis accompanied by psoriasis, or, skin issues) 

Additional conditions that come with joint pain and swelling, and so the CDC considers them within the family are gout, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. The CDC actually states there are over 100 different types of arthritis conditions.

Really, “arthritis” is a SYMPTOM, not the root cause. It comes back to finding that root cause in order to truly address the problem. What is causing that joint + inflammation?

The Complexity of Your Joint Health

Understanding how to support your joint health entails understanding the many components of the joint – there’s more than just bone there! And all the components need to be monitored and nourished. You may have something going on the the bone, the tendons, the ligaments, the cartilage, the synovial fluid, the synovial membrane, and more! Each unique component has unique needs.

Issues can arise from a variety of causes, including movement and muscle imbalance (bad form, repetitive movement, injury), bad shoes/gear, nutrient insufficiencies, genetics, poor stomach acid, medications, and more! (see pdf below)

Each of those issues needs to be considered, and addressed if there is an issue.

  • Cartilage – can get worn down and loses integrity/damaged
  • Synovial membrane – can become “dehydrated” or inflamed
  • Synovial fluid – can be reduced and not provide adequate lubrication
  • Ligaments – can be inflamed or torn (sprains)
  • Tendons – can be inflamed or torn (strains)
  • Bursa – can be inflamed, can rupture
  • Any muscles around the joint can become strained, torn, over- or under-active and imbalanced and pull the joint components out of alignment.
  • The bones themselves can lose bone density (osteoporosis), degrade from wear-and-tear (osteoarthritis), or the whole joint can be attacked by your immune system (autoimmune issues like rheumatoid arthritis)
Not a Universal Cause, So Not a Universal Solution

Arthritis isn’t just a one-size-fits-all term; it’s a complex issue with various underlying causes. The key to effective treatment is understanding the root cause of your joint pain and inflammation. Whether you’re running marathons or just love a good hike, taking care of your joints is non-negotiable.

Stay tuned as we dive deeper into this topic over the next few weeks, where we’ll talk about the role of food (bother general and specific), as well as look at some supplements that may help.

Ready to take control of your joint health? Catch up with the first-part Webinar focused on more deeply on these topics of Pain: Causes and Cures here! And Don’t miss our upcoming webinar this fall for the full details on supplements for arthritis! Keep an eye out in the newsletters for that!

Published by Kate Cline, RD

Registered Dietitian with a focus on Gut Health, Inflammation, and Functional Nutrition. Personal Trainer with a focus on corrective exercise. Yoga teacher, traveler, empowerment coach.

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