Arthritis Health Terms You Need to Know

Arthritis, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on May 2, 2013
Man with arthritis in knee.

Aching knees giving you some trouble? Or maybe it’s your shoulder that’s making you wince?

You might have arthritis. But … you might not.

“I always remind people that actually arthritis truly means you have a problem inside the joint,” says rheumatologist Dr. Patience White, vice president for public health policy and advocacy for the Arthritis Foundation. “Joint pain could mean you (just) have pain around the joint.”

Fifty million adults in the United States have some form of arthritis. And two-thirds of them are people under the age of 65.

“A myth is that arthritis is in old people and that you can’t do anything about it,” says White. “In some instances, you can do a great deal about it. It depends on what kind.”

It’s also important to understand that there are three major types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Osteoarthritis is the most common form. This is the kind that tends to bother you when you use your joints a lot.

While anyone can develop osteoarthritis, there’s much more of a genetic component when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis. Also, any joint can be involved, but it commonly affects the hands, wrists, or feet—and it’s often symmetrical, unlike osteoarthritis, which might just affect one knee, or one elbow, or one hip.

Gout is the third major form. It occurs when uric acid builds up and deposits crystals in the joint. Mostly commonly detected in the big toe, it’s inflammatory and very, very painful.

Here’s a list of arthritis-related terms that are useful to know:

1. Osteoarthritis: a joint disease that progress over time and causes the breakdown of cartilage; the most common form of arthritis

2. Rheumatoid arthritis: an inflammatory form of arthritis

3. Juvenile arthritis: chronic joint inflammation that affects children

4. Gout: painful swelling in a joint caused by a build-up of uric acid that causes deposits in the joint; it often shows up as extremely acute pain in the big toe

5. Joint: a place where two bones come together

6. Fibromyalgia: an arthritis-related condition that causes fatigue and muscle pain

7. Synovium: the membrane that lines a joint

8. Nodule: a solid or raised bump

9. Rheumatologist: a doctor with specialized training in treating joints, bones, and the immune system

10. Corticosteroid: a drug that suppresses inflammation

11. Cartilage: the smooth covering on the ends of bones

12. Tendinitis: inflammation of the cord-like structure that connects muscle to bone; it can cause pain in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee or ankle.

13. Bursitis: pain resulting from the swollen tissue, or sac, around the moving parts of your body, such as bones, muscles and tendons

14. Immune-response modifiers: drugs that affect your immune system by suppressing it, often used when a person doesn’t respond to other forms of treatment

15. Arthroplasty: rebuilding of joints, or total joint replacement

16. Arthroscopy: minimally invasive knee surgery using a lighted scope and narrow instruments inserted through small incisions in the skin (often used for knee and shoulder surgery).

17. Bursa: fluid-filled sacs that cushion and lubricate the joints

18. Glucosamine: a substance produced by the body to grow, repair and maintain cartilage

19. Fusion: welding two things together to form one single unit

20. Ligament: a strong band of tissue that holds your joints together

21. Meniscus: c-shaped cartilage-like tissue between the bones of the knee that absorbs shock and stabilizes the knee

22. Range of motion: the ability to move your joints through the full motion for which they were designed

23. Hyaluronic acid: a component of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and allows the bones to slide past each other.

Definitions courtesy of the Plain Language Medical Dictionary, which is part of the Michigan Health Literacy Awareness project, MedlinePlus, and the Arthritis Foundation