You’ve probably twisted your ankle, banged your knee, or even felt a little pain in your elbow at some point. The puffiness and redness are part of the healing process, as your body sends its immune system to work to repair the damage.
But sometimes the immune system doesn’t shut off and launches an unhealthy attack on your joints for no identifiable reason, causing pain, stiffness, and damage. This is called inflammatory arthritis.
Experts don’t know what causes this to happen, except that immune cells activate and congregate in and around the joint. More and more show up, causing the joint lining to thicken and new blood vessels to form, which ultimately damages joints.
Chronic inflammation in joints can lead to pain, swelling, and stiffness, potentially causing irreversible damage.
The three main types of inflammatory arthritis are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): The immune system attacks the lining of joints, most common in the hands, wrists, and feet.
- Gout: A build-up of uric acid, which can crystallize in joints. It most commonly occurs in the big toe.
- Calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease (CPPD or pseudogout): The settlement of calcium crystals, generally in the knee, wrist, shoulder, or ankle.
- Psoriatic arthritis: Localized scaly skin on the areas surrounding the knees, ankles, wrists, or fingers.
These conditions are commonly treated with a variety of drugs, all of which work well.
Lifestyle measures may help minimize flare-ups too. Getting regular exercise, eating a nutrient-dense diet and avoiding processed foods, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to successfully manage stress may all help increase your chances of comfort.
You may have noticed there was no mention of osteoarthritis (OA). That’s because that form of joint pain is not a result of an immune response. OA, rather, is the result of overuse wearing away at joints over years and years. Therefore, it has different treatment techniques.