Arthritis Fact Sheet

Arthritis Fact Sheet

What is Arthritis?

The word arthritis derives from Greek words for joint (arthrosi) and inflammation (itis).

Arthritis is a major cause of pain and disability in Australia. It affects people of all ages, genders, and walks of life. Arthritis is not a single condition. There are over 150 types of arthritis all of which affect one or more joints in the body. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus (SLE), and gout which together account for 90% of all arthritis cases.

Arthritis is often misinterpreted as simply a disease that affects elderly people when in fact 60% of those who are diagnosed with arthritis are aged between 15 and 60 years old. One in one thousand children are also diagnosed with juvenile arthritis while it is estimated that three in every thousand children live with the condition but remain undiagnosed.

How Common is Arthritis?

Arthritis affects 3.4 million Australians, 16.7% of the population. Of the proportion of Australians affected, 60.4% are women. 60% of all people living with arthritis are of working age.

What Causes Arthritis?

There is no one single cause or list of causes for arthritis. This is due to the fact that there are so many types of arthritis and often several coexisting factors may contribute to an individual developing this disease.

Different Types of Arthritis

Arthritis also can affect other tissues within the body such as muscle. Arthritis can cause pain, loss of range of movement, and joint swelling. Some types of arthritis are:

Osteoarthritis is a whole joint disease affecting cartilage, bone, ligament, tendon, muscle, synovial fluid, and nerve. It is the most prevalent form of arthritis and has been shown to respond effectively to exercise (see our GLA:D programs). Exercise impacts muscle strength and endurance, cartilage health, synovial fluid viscosity, and also benefits cardiovascular health and wellbeing. If you could bottle the benefits of exercise it would surely be the most valuable medicine for almost all arthritis. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed as part of an abnormal immune system response. Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the most serious and disabling types of arthritis and responds well to appropriate activity modification and exercise as well as medication management.

Gout is usually the result of a defect in body chemistry. This painful condition most often attacks peripheral joints, especially the big toe. Fortunately, gout almost always can be completely controlled with medication and changes in diet as well as healthy lifestyle choices. These changes can be very difficult to achieve, however.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and pelvis. As a result of inflammation, the bones of the spine may eventually fuse however many people with this condition cope exceptionally well if exercise and healthy choices are a feature of their response.

Juvenile arthritis is a general term for all types of arthritis that occur in children. Children may develop juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or childhood forms of lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, or other types of arthritis.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus or SLE) is a serious disorder that can inflame and damage joints and other connective tissues throughout the body. It is another autoimmune disorder. Best we keep our immune responses under control.

Scleroderma is a disease of the body’s connective tissue that causes a thickening and hardening of the skin.

Preventing Arthritis

As the specific causes of the different types of arthritis remain unclear it is difficult to say what may assist in the prevention of the development of some forms of arthritis. However, listed below are a few steps that may be beneficial in reducing the effects of arthritis.

  • Maintain appropriate weight (but don’t beat yourself up about it).
  • Protect joints from injuries and overuse (don’t run when you could walk).
  • Regularly exercise to maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints. Weight-bearing exercise is the first-choice treatment for osteoarthritis. Regular Physiotherapy care is often of benefit too, ensuring optimal spinal/joint range of movement and flexibility and appropriate exercise prescription for optimal strength and flexibility.
  • Eat a healthy diet as nutrients are vital for joint health (high sugars in your diet may contribute to osteoarthritis).
  • Hydrate your body. Water makes up 70 percent of the cartilage in joints and plays a major role in the lubrication and shock-absorbing properties of healthy joints.

So in the end, do what you already know what to do. Exercise well, eat and drink well and if you need help, see your physio.