The most recent statistics show that arthritis afflicts more than 46 million Americans. It's actually an umbrella term for more than 100 different conditions, however. The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, typically affects the fingers, knees, ankles, feet, hips, neck, and spine, causing stiffness and pain.
Osteoarthritis is usually considered just a natural sign of aging, the result of normal wear and tear on your joints. Some of the factors that influence it, like heredity, are out of your control. Others, including numerous lifestyle decisions, however, can help prevent and relieve the painful symptoms.
If arthritis pain is persistent or if you have 5 to 10 minutes or more of significant morning stiffness on any given morning, see your doctor, advises Ted Fields, M.D. Also see your doctor if you have loss of motion or swelling in a joint or if the pain stops you from activities that are important to you.
Talk to your doctor if acetaminophen or another over-the-counter pain reliever doesn't help with the pain, says Justus Fiechtner, M.D.
Neal Barnard, M.D., is the president of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the author of Foods That Fight Pain.
Justus Fiechtner, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical professor of medicine and osteopathy at Michigan State University College in East Lansing and has a private practice specializing in rheumatology in Lansing, Michigan.
Ted Fields, M.D., is a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, where he is also director of the Rheumatology Faculty Practice Plan and clinical director of the Gosden Robinson Early Arthritis Center. Dr. Fields is co-director of the Hospital for Special Surgery Musculoskeletal Web site and an associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
Sol Grazi, M.D., was formerly an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
Stanley Jacob, M.D., is a professor of surgery at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
Alan Lichtbroun, M.D., is an assistant professor of rheumatology and the internal medicine director of the alternative medicine department at the Robert Wood School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Michael Loes, M.D., is director of the Arizona Pain Institute in Phoenix and author of The Healing Response.