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Symptoms of Arthritis

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Around 10 million people in the UK are estimated to have arthritis, and many of these people are senior citizens.

The term arthritis is used to describe pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Despite the singular name, it's not just one condition. There are several types of arthritis that can have different causes and symptoms.

The effects of arthritis can be incredibly painful. However, by recognising the condition and seeking the right treatment, you can better manage your pain and remain psychically active. Therefore, if you recognise any of these symptoms, it's good to book an appointment with your GP.

Early symptoms of arthritis

While one of the key indicators of arthritis is pain in the joints, ongoing pain may not start until the condition is more advanced. However, some other symptoms may give you an early warning sign that you have arthritis. There are several kinds of arthritis, so early symptoms may differ depending on the type.

While there is no cure for arthritis, specific treatments and even lifestyle changes can slow down the progress and ease the effects, so it is helpful to seek advice if you have any of these symptoms.

  • Early morning stiffness in joints which does not ease after a short time
  • Pain or stiffness that gets worse when you are inactive
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Pain or swelling of joints
  • Weakness in areas of your body that were not there previously
  • Fatigue
  • Generally feeling unwell

Of course, having these symptoms does not automatically mean that you have or are at risk of, arthritis, and many of them may be indicative of other conditions, so it is always wise to consult with your GP.

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical wear and tear on the joints. This can come with age or be caused by an injury or other conditions.

The main difference between the two is that RA is actually the "cause" of the joint symptoms. The immune system, which is designed to fight off infection, actually attacks the cells in your joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful. Over time this can damage the joints, cartilage and nearby bone.

Osteoarthrosis is caused by other factors that have damaged your joints. In fact, RA can lead to osteoarthritis. As osteoarthritis is caused by longer-term wear and tear on the joints, it tends to start at an older age.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that can start at any time but often presents in people between the ages of 30 and 50.

Medical Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis differ from that of osteoarthritis in that they are designed to slow down the progress of the condition, which damages the joints.

Often these treatments are divided into two main types: disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological therapies.

DMARDs work by blocking the effects of the chemicals released when your immune system attacks your joints, which could otherwise cause further damage to nearby bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

Biological treatments are a newer form of treatment and are given by injection. They work by stopping certain chemicals in your blood from activating your immune system to attack your joints.

Can lifestyle changes make a difference?

Often, lifestyle adaptations such as losing weight or undertaking exercise can help manage any type of arthritis symptoms. Losing weight helps to lessen the stress on weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips and therefore reduces pain in joints that are already affected. Exercise can help strengthen muscles that surround affected joints, helping relieve pain.

Pain relief for arthritis symptoms

Whether you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, you will likely want pain relief when your symptoms flare up.

Medications for pain relief will depend on the severity of symptoms. Initially, most GPs will recommend taking paracetamol. However, if this does not control pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be prescribed. These are painkillers that work by reducing inflammation and may be given as a topical cream or an oral tablet/capsule.

For chronic pain, opioids may be prescribed.

Another option is capsaicin cream, which blocks the nerves that send pain messages to the affected area.

Some people may be offered steroid injections when other treatments have not worked. They are injected directly into the joint, and work by decreasing inflammation and reducing the activity of the immune system.

Surgery for symptoms of arthritis

Not everyone who has arthritis will need surgery. However, an operation may be required where other treatments have not been effective, or a joint is severely damaged.

Joint replacement

One of the most common forms of surgery for those suffering from osteoarthritis is joint replacement. Joint replacement, also known as arthroplasty, is most commonly done to replace hip and knee joints.

During this type of surgery, the damaged joint is replaced with an artificial one made of special plastics and metals. An artificial joint can last for up to twenty years; therefore, depending on the patient's age, it may eventually need to be replaced.


This procedure removes inflamed joint tissue and is more commonly used for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

During an arthroscopy, a thin tube with a light and camera attached to it (arthroscope) is inserted into the joint through a small cut in the skin so the surgeon can see the affected joint. Special instruments are inserted through other minor cuts in the skin to remove the damaged tissue.


This operation, performed by keyhole surgery, involves making holes in exposed bone surfaces with a drill or pick. This encourages new cartilage to grow from the bone marrow. The technique isn't recommended for advanced arthritis.

Arthritis and falls for elderly people

Some of the physical symptoms associated with arthritis, including joint pain or stiffness, muscle weakness and sensory impairment, can negatively affect balance which, in turn, increases the risk of falling.

Research has linked joint pain to an increased risk for falls. The more joints affected by arthritis, the higher the odds are that a fall may happen.

In a 2015 Arthritis Care & Research study, people with pain in one lower joint – their knee or hip – were 53 percent more likely to fall.

In addition to being more common, sadly, the risk of injury from falls can also increase for those who have arthritis. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, there is often an increased risk of fractures down to reduced bone mass which can be related to the disease.

For those with osteoarthritis, damage to the joints in the knees and hips can interfere with balance and mobility.

Preventing falls can relate to both maintaining the best physical health possible but also making your environment as safe and non-hazardous as achievable.

To maintain good balance, it's a good idea to undertake regular exercise designed to help with balance. Please read our guide to the best activities for older people to find some great ideas which are not hard on the joints.

To avoid trip hazards in the home, it's wise to undertake regular checks of items such as rugs, carpets and even wiring, which presents an obstacle. Read our blog about preventing falls in the home.

As trips and falls can be more damaging to someone with arthritis, it's a good idea to consider wearing a personal alarm so that someone is on hand to help quickly if you do fall. Some of our most popular personal alarms include automatic fall detection, where the pendant or wristband can detect the fall without the wearer needing to press the button. This can be essential if your loved one has lost consciousness after banging their head, or is immobile, following the fall.

Living with arthritis can be difficult; however, in addition to medical treatments and pain relief, there are several organisations that also offer support. Versus Arthritis provides an entire online community where you can find support from others who also live with the condition.

Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about how you can help keep loved ones suffering from arthritis safe with a personal alarm.

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