What Is Arthritis?

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Arthritis, Bone & Joint Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

"Arthritis" is commonly misused to describe all types of joint pain

"Arthritis" has become a catch-all term used to describe almost any ache or pain that lasts more than a few days. In my opinion, it's one of the most misused terms and misunderstood conditions in health care today.

Translated directly from the Greek, arthritis means "inflammation of a joint." The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. It refers to "wear and tear" arthritis that usually develops as you age into your fifties.

Another type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. In this case the tissue under attack is the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. This results in pain and inflammation in the joints. Unfortunately, like any autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured—only managed.

The Importance of Synovial Fluid to Joint Health

Many joint problems occur because the cartilage surfaces inside joints have little, if any, direct blood supply. Think of this cartilage as similar to a sponge. It gets most of its nutrients for repair from the fluid within the joint capsule itself, called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid contains a couple of compounds called hyaluronic acid and lubricin.

As the joint is moved through its full range of motion, the "sponge" is compressed and released. This action helps "squeeze" out waste material from the cartilage cells. And, just as a sponge sucks in water, nutrients are "pulled" into the cartilage cells when pressure on the cartilage is released. Because the survival of every cell of the cartilage surface depends on this regular exchange of waste material and nutrients, moving each joint through its full range of motion daily is one of the first steps for keeping it healthy.

The synovial fluid also provides lubrication and shock absorption for your joints. Thus, nourishing your synovial fluid is an important step in supporting healthy joints. Fortunately, you can increase your levels of hyaluronic acid and lubricin naturally with a few simple lifestyle changes.

WATCH: How Exercise Promotes Joint Health

More Dr. Williams Advice on Arthritis

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