Arthritis Q and A

Arthritis is a common problem, especially among older adults. If you notice pain and stiffness in one or more of your joints, it may be because the cartilage that covers the end of your bones has worn away. Read on to learn more about how to prevent arthritis, or treat the condition if you already have it.[1]

Arthritis Facts

Q: What is arthritis?

A: Arthritis refers to a group of more than 100 conditions that inflame joints and the tissues around them. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, affecting more than 27 million people in the US. It happens when the cartilage between your joints breaks down and causes your bones to rub together painfully.[2]

The second most common form, rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease that affects about 1.5 people in the US.[3] Though there is no cure for either type of arthritis, pain and stiffness can be managed with lifestyle interventions.[4]

Q: What are the symptoms of arthritis?

A: Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • A cracking or grinding noise in the joints
  • Redness
  • Deformed joints
  • Muscle weakness[5]
  • Reduced mobility[6]

People who have rheumatoid arthritis can also experience all of these symptoms. However, as with most autoimmune diseases, this type of arthritis may put you at risk for more serious conditions. If you notice any of the following, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Numbness or tingling, especially in the feet and wrists
  • Serious infections
  • Bone fractures
  • Easy bruising[7]

Risk factors

Q: What are the risk factors for arthritis?

A: Though there is still a lot to learn about arthritis, we do know that there are a few things that can increase your risk of developing it. If you have the following factors, there are things you can do to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis:

  • An active job: If you need to bend or squat repeatedly for your work, you may be at risk for arthritis in your knees or ankles.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight or obese tend to get osteoarthritis more often, and it can be more severe than for people at normal weights.
  • Infections: If your joints become infected, this can lead to arthritis. This is why it’s so important to get infections treated as soon as you notice them.
  • Injuries: If any of your joints are damaged, you can get osteoarthritis.

However, there are some risk factors you can’t change. These include:

  • Family history: Arthritis tends to run in families. If your parents or siblings have any type of arthritis, you are at risk for getting the same type at some point in your life.
  • Sex: Women are much more likely to have arthritis than men.
  • Age: Older adults are at a higher risk for all types of arthritis than younger people.[8]


Q: How can I find out if I have arthritis?

A: If you have pain, swelling, stiffness, redness or reduced mobility in your joints, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. He or she can run a few different tests to see if you have arthritis, and what kind. These include:

  • Physical exams: Your healthcare provider may check the mobility, swelling, warmth or redness of your joints.
  • Lab tests: He or she may also take a blood test, or a fluid sample from your joints. This is the best way to see what type of arthritis you have.
  • X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans: These can give your healthcare provider a picture of your joints, to see if you have arthritis or something else (like a bone spur) that is causing your symptoms.[9]

Lifestyle changes

Q: Are there any changes I can make to my lifestyle to manage my arthritis, or stop it from getting worse?

A: Although your genes play a big role in whether or not you get arthritis–and what type–there are many steps you can take to reduce pain and improve your mobility. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if any of the following may help you:

  • Weight loss. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can reduce stress on your knees, hips, and lower back.
  • Most physical activity can improve your muscle strength and range of motion, and can reduce stiffness.[10]
  • Heat therapy. Try this by soaking in a warm bath, applying a heat patch, or placing a warm washcloth on the painful joint. You may need to limit your time in a hot tub or bath if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure. Hot water can overheat you, cause dehydration, and raise your blood pressure.[11]
  • Cold therapy. This will numb the nerves around your joints, reducing pain and inflammation. Some examples of cold therapy are cold packs, ice massage, soaking in cold water, and over-the-counter cooling sprays and ointments.[12]
  • Massage, acupuncture and visits to a chiropractor. These may provide temporary relief of osteoarthritis symptoms.
  • Healthy food. A well-balanced meal plan can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower painful inflammation. This is especially important for people with rheumatoid arthritis.[13]


Q: Are there any over-the-counter medicines I can take for my arthritis?

A: Yes. These come in two categories:

Topical pain relievers

These may cause your skin to feel hot or cold, which can briefly lower pain. Some products contain:

  • Salicylates, the active ingredient found in aspirin.
  • Menthol, which makes the skin feel cooler.
  • Capsaicin, a hot pepper extract that will cause your skin to feel very warm.[14]

Oral pain relievers

  • Acetaminophen is often a first choice for treatment of osteoarthritis because it does not irritate the stomach.
  • Ibuprofen and naproxen are also effective but can cause stomach upset, so they are best taken with food. Use only as directed on the product label.[15]

Speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about what options are best for you.

Q: What prescription treatments are available for arthritis?

A: Your healthcare provider may prescribe surgery, injections, or oral medicines to lower pain, improve joint mobility, and reduce stiffness.[16] Prescription medicines for arthritis include:

  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs): These are the most commonly prescribed medicines for arthritis. While they are available over-the-counter, your healthcare provider may suggest a higher dose, which means you will need a prescription.
  • Steroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs are used to treat many types of arthritis, including rheumatoid. They can be taken as a pill or as an injection.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): By lowering the response of your immune system, these medicines stop your body from attacking your joints, which can lower pain and swelling.[17]





















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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

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Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

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