Pain in the joints can be caused by many different factors. Commonly, arthritis is caused by trauma or an injury. A fall or car accident can precipitate many cases of arthritis. The affected joint remains inflamed even after the passage of time with or without medical intervention. The trauma isn’t necessarily caused by an obvious accident. Injuries sustained consistently with overuse, as seen in athletes, can cause traumatic arthritis. Alterations of the total joint structure can affect the mechanics of the joint, thereby causing arthritis.
Since the joints are protected to some degree by cartilage, damage to these soft tissues can cause arthritis. When an activity or injury damages the cartilage or the surrounding tendons of the joint, arthritis can develop. Since joints are used in conjunction with these tissues, pain can be mild to severe. Joints are surrounded by layers of synovial fluid, which aids in the movement of the joints and also the lubrication of them. When the joints are injured and the tissues swell up, pressure builds on the joint causing pain. Since there is nowhere for this fluid to go, a painful swollen joint may need to be drained by a doctor. When this is done, the fluid is sent to the laboratory for examination.
It is in the lab that it is determined if the fluid has bacteria present. The presence of crystals in the synovial fluid made from calcium or uric acid can be seen by the laboratory. Arthritis can be caused by infection. Bacteria in the bloodstream, after an injury or surgery can cause arthritis and so can Lyme disease, which can affect many body systems including the joints.
There is some controversy about whether arthritis is caused by cold or cold weather. Weather certainly plays a part in arthritis as patient complaints increase in humid and cold weather. Since the cold can cause the synovial fluid to thicken, cold may worsen, if not cause, arthritis in some individuals. Since people tend to spend more time indoors in cold weather, being less mobile may not allow the fluid to lubricate the joints as they do when active.
Autoimmunity plays a role in some types of arthritis. In many people, the immune cells in the joints overproduce antibodies causing pain. This is a factor in rheumatoid arthritis, gout and psoriatic arthritis. Since autoimmune disorders may run in families, a family history of these disorders is an arthritis risk factor.
In addition to autoimmune arthritis, other arthritis risk factors include obesity and history of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the medical term for the most common arthritis.
Arthritis prevention is geared to protection of the joints that are the most weight bearing, such as knees, hips and shoulders. Gentle exercise, stretching and massage can help. Eating healthy foods such as vegetables rich in vitamins K and C and foods with omega fatty acids such as fish can help. In addition to an arthritis diet, maintaining a healthy weight can protect joints and keep them flexible.