What is arthritis?

Oct 31 2017

What is arthritis?

Arthritis basically means joint pain or joint disease. There are different types of arthritis which can present in different ways. It can be a debilitating disease, however, it can be managed effectively so that you can still participate in the things you enjoy.

Types of arthritis

  • Degenerative arthritis/ Osteoarthritis (OA)
  • Inflammatory arthritis eg. Ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis
  • Metabolic arthritis eg. Gout
  • Infectious arthritis



  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness which eases with movement
  • Swelling of the joint
  • Grinding sensations (crepitus)

Ankylosing Spondylitis

  • Pain and stiffness usually in the back which is worse in the mornings and with rest
  • Alleviated by movement
  • Other accompanying symptoms can include fatigue, inflammation of the eye, and inflammation of the bowl (IBS)

Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Joint pain and stiffness (can occur on both sides of the body)
  • Fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Flu-like symptoms

It is always advised to see your GP or health professional to confirm a diagnosis and to eliminate any other possible causes of your symptoms.

Treatment options

Self-management and physiotherapy are the first line of treatment as it is non-invasive and has been shown to be very effective both in the short and long term. Failing that, intraarticular injections have been shown to help with the symptoms. Plasma rich protein (PRP) injections have also some evidence to support their use in alleviating the symptoms of OA. However, most studies have found the effects to be short term only. Although this does allow a time frame for exercises to commence or increase.

If the OA is so severe and all other treatment options have failed, joint surgery can be advised. This does not necessarily relate to the degree of arthritis shown on an image, but it is more to do with your levels of pain and disability.

Self-management advice

  • Apply heat treatment, eg. hot water bottle, to the area twice per day
  • Move your joints regularly throughout the day. If you sit at a desk all day, set a reminder for every 20 minutes to move the joint or to have just a 1-2 minute walk
  • Research has found that regular breaks when walking can prevent an increase in pain.  Pace yourself and plan your route if possible to allow for places to sit down for a short while.


Manual therapy

Treatment such as soft tissue release, joint mobilisations and passive stretching have been found to have a short term effect on OA symptoms. . This will allow you to carry out your exercise programme with more ease in the initial stages of rehabilitation.

Exercise therapy

Exercise is one of the most effective forms of conservative treatment for arthritis.

If you suspect you may have arthritis, it is always best to seek professional help.

  1. Confirm a diagnosis with GP
  2. Seek physiotherapy for advice on self-management and a tailor-made exercise programme
  3. Maintain effects with regular exercise and continuation of strengthening programme

Article written by Finola Burrell, Senior Physiotherapist