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Can Cracking Knuckles Cause Arthritis? Let’s Learn About It

Tomorrow is World Arthritis Day. Celebrated each year on October 12, this Day aims to increase understanding of this disease, which comes in many shapes and sizes. Today, Dr. Yujie Cui, an Orthopedist at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU), is here to share some more information about arthirtis.

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1. What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common but misunderstood disease. In fact, arthritis is not just one disease, but is a common way of referring to joint pain or joint disease and is often caused by inflammation in the joints. Arthritis can impact all individuals, regardless of age, sex, or race and is the leading cause of disability in America. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes, while some types can even affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and skin.

2. Who gets arthritis? That is, who is at risk for developing arthritis?
As mentioned above, arthritis is common among all people. However, arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, though it can affect people of all ages, including children. Arthritis is more common among women than men, and they often experience worse pain and disability in different joints.

People who are obese, participate in sports at a high level, or partake in certain occupations that require heavy lifting, such as construction, are also at an increased risk of developing arthritis.

3. I’ve heard there are different types of arthritis. What are they?
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, with different causes and treatment methods. Osteoarthrits (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile arthritis (JA), fibromyalgia, and gout are the most common forms of arthritis.
OA is the most common form of arthritis and is often referred to as degenerative joint disease. It commonly occurs in the hands, hips, and knees. With OA, cartilage in the joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change, eventually leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.
RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, in which the immune system attacks the joints, commonly in the hands, wrists, and knees. The lining of the joint can be come inflamed, causing joint tissue damage and leading to chronic pain, unsteadiness, and deformity.
Juvenile arthritis can cause permanet physical damage to the joints and make it hard for a child to do everyday activities, like walking or getting dressed. While the cause is unknown and there is no cure, some children achieve permanent remission.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, and emotional and mental distress. The cause is not known, but it can be treated and managed.
Gout is caused by hyperuricemia, meaning there is too much uric acid in the body. This uric acid can build up in the joints, fluids, and tissues in the body and be very painful. There is no cure for gout, but you can effectively treat and manage the condition with medication and self-management strategies.

4. Can cracking knuckles cause arthritis?
Cracking of knuckles will not increase the risk of developing arthritis. The popping noise that is often associated with knuckle cracking is caused by bubbles bursting in the fluid that helps lubricate the joints, known as synovial fluid. The bubbles pop when you pull the bones apart, either by stretching or bending your fingers.

Injury, abnormal metabolism, genetic makeup, infections, and immune system dysfunction can be causes of arthritis.

5. What does it feel like to have arthritis?
With all types of arthritis, the area around the impacted joint (such as the knee, hip, or wrist) may become red, swollen, and tender to the touch. It may also radiate some heat.

In those with early stages of arthritis, they may experience swelling, redness, stiffness, pain (that is worse in the morning), weakness, muscle wasting, fatigue, and fever. People with moderate or late stage arthritis may experience more stiffness, lose their range of motion, and develop deformities, dysfunctions, or even disabilities.

6. How is it diagnosed?
Sometimes, you can experience aches and pains. These may be related to an intense exercise you completed or a new activity you tried out. However, when pain doesn’t go away after a few days, or it starts to disrupt your daily activities, it is suggested to see a doctor.

A doctor will collect information about the patient, including age, gender, family history, general condition, and occupation. This information will help your doctor ascertain if the pain and other symptoms may be caused by arthritis or something different.

Blood tests, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasounds can be helpful when making a diagnosis.

7. Can arthritis be treated? If so, how is it treated
The type of treatement depends on the type of arthritis the individual has. Many forms of treatment exist for joint pain, and with the right diagnosis from doctors, they can help determine which treatment will help best to prevent further strages of arthritis and help the patient manage his or her symptoms.

Systematic treatment, activity modification, or lifestyle changes are commonly prescribed forms of treatment for arthritis. Hot compresses are a simple solution for mild arthritis pains, as they can help improve blood circulation and ease inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medicine or creams are other effective measures that can help reduce pain associated with arthritis. For people experiencing gout, getting adequate exercise and avoiding foods that are rich in uric acid are often prescribed methods for treating the disease. In general, doctors may suggest daily exercise and changes to a patient’s diet first, before prescribing medications or surgery.

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