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Are You Suffering From Arthritis? Diagnose Your Joint Pain Now

We don’t typically think about it, but joints affect our every move. They form the connections between bones, provide support and help the body move. Our movements seem so natural, we don’t ever think it—that is, until we experience pain.

Joint pain is extremely common; according to WebMD, approximately one-third of adults report having some type of joint pain, which can affect any part of the body, from mildly bothersome to severely debilitating. Pain may last weeks or even months.

Joint pain can be caused by injury or inflammation, commonly referred to as arthritis, which actually refers to a variety of types of joint disease. Although arthritis is more common in women and older adults, it can affect anyone. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, there are over 100 types of arthritis that affect more than 53 million adults and over 300,000 children.

Classification and symptoms of joint pain

You know that experiencing any type of pain—whether stiffness, weakness, swelling or tenderness in joints—makes it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks. But Penn’s new Musculoskeletal Center knows best how to treat a variety of conditions so you can live an active, pain-free lifestyle.

According to Dr. Eric Hume, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Penn Medicine, arthritis should be classified to plan disease specific care. Common categories include:

  • Primary – joint pain resulting from inherited type of arthritis
  • Secondary – joint pain resulting from wear-and-tear after an injury
  • Inflammatory – joint disease resulting from inflammation (for example, Rheumatoid arthritis)

Diagnosing joint pain: How do you know it’s arthritis?

Dr. Hume advises seeking a physician’s diagnosis if pain is not improving. If pain is the result of an arthritis diagnosis then more specific measures can be started, such as physical therapy, prescribed medication or surgery.

“A lot of people have joint pain as a result of an injury, and that may not lead to arthritis, so it’s important to distinguish between the two,” he said.

According to Hume, doctors will typically perform a physical exam, blood tests and imaging. “These tests would show signs of arthritis. Joint space loss, specifically, is what we look for as a first sign of arthritis,” he said.

Your physician may refer you to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or orthopaedic surgeon, if surgery is necessary. Once the cause has been determined, pain must be managed and treated. If joint pain resulting from injury or genetic inheritance is the culprit, typical over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications, such as Tylenol, or a topical treatment, such as a capsaicin cream, may be prescribed. Hume also recommends treating painful joints with ice and heat.

If the issue does not require surgery, Hume recommends various lifestyle factors to help manage and treat common joint pain. “Keeping your weight at a healthy level and engaging in low-impact exercise, including warming up, is very effective for the joints.”

Penn Medicine’s brand-new, state-of-the-art Musculoskeletal Center—which conveniently brings together multiple medical specialties—is a team of doctors, nurses and physical therapists who take a whole-body approach to diagnosing and treating joints, muscles and bones. Seek medical care at Penn’s Musculoskeletal Center for advanced treatment in orthopaedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pain medicine and rheumatology. Visit www.PennMedicine.org/MSK, or call 215-615-2576.