'Arthritis' comes from the Greek words meaning 'inflammation of the joint.' There are more than 100 kinds, with rheumatoid osteoarthritis the most common. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that's associated with aging and can cause the cartilage to break down. It's also caused by medical trauma, metabolic disorder, a sports injury, heavy labor, or a birth defect. As the cartilage is gradually destroyed, the raw surface of the underlying bone is exposed and becomes tender, causing severe pain. In osteoarthritis, bone spurs develop around the arthritic joint, which can be located in the fingers, cervical area of the spine and neck, knees, or hips. Pain can occur during or after using the joint. Arthritis sufferers can obtain pain relief by using aspirin, aspirin substitutes, or other anti-inflammatory drugs. Removal of excess fluid and injections of corticosteroids may occasionally help, although steroids may have side effects. Many arthritics are overweight, and losing weight can result in less pain. Stretching and exercise, as well as massage, can strengthen and relax the bones and ligaments surrounding the affected areas. Low-impact exercise, such as swimming, walking, or biking, is best. Special canes, shoes, lifts, and crutches can also be helpful. Another common type is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies attack the tissues in the joints of the body. It's believed to be triggered by emotional stress. Treatment includes both anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medications, as well as topical analgesic creams. Massaging muscles that pull on the joints may also help to relieve pain and swelling. In severe cases of arthritis, surgery-- including joint or hip replacement-- may be required.
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