What is arthritis?

by Arthur's Place
Photo by Margo Giannaklis

Photo by Margo Giannaklis

You've been told you have arthritis. But what is it? Most people think it's an "old person's disease", but that's not true, as you're now finding out

There are around 200 different types of musculoskeletal condition. “Arthritis” (from the Greek ‘arthro’, meaning joint, and ‘itis’, meaning inflammation) describes a family of conditions that includes different types and symptoms. This goes some way to explaining why doctors can take some time to provide a definite diagnosis – they want to be as sure as they can about which of the many variations of arthritis you may be experiencing, as this will help determine the best treatment and benefit you in the long-run.

Who gets arthritis?

The MSK Health Report 2018 states that there are over 17.8 million people living in the UK with a musculo-skeletal condition, with around 10 million of these people having arthritis. It affects all ages and ethnicities. So, this is certainly not just an “old person’s disease”.

What causes arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear, or as a result of significant injury around joints. With osteoarthritis, symptoms can feel worse at the end of the day.

People who suffer from this common type of arthritis can suffer from joint pain and stiffness which can cause a considerable amount of pain for the individual.

Other types of arthritis are caused by inflammation, with symptoms often worse in the mornings. What causes inflammatory types of arthritis remains unknown at present, but scientists are getting closer to an answer all the time. As a result of learning more about arthritis, arthritis treatment has significantly advanced.

We also now know that the earlier treatment is started, the better the outcome. Good control of the inflammation, by taking medication as prescribed, helps prevent harm to your joints, and means that a positive, active and productive life is possible.

Below we explain a few of the more common types of arthritis. To find out more go here.

This group of conditions begins before age 16 and is known to affect around 12,000 young people in the UK.


The most common in under-16s. One or two joints are affected, most commonly knees. For some it may extend to an additional joint. It is also possible that inflammation of the eyes may occur. It is the most likely to resolve as you become an adult, leaving little to no damage to the joints.


For most people this affects five or more joints. It may continue into adulthood, but symptoms may go into remission.


This affects the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones, and may cause uveitis, affecting the eye.


Joint symptoms combined with illness – fever, rash and fatigue.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition, where the body’s immune system becomes confused, going beyond attacking infections to attacking healthy tissue, leading to inflammation in the joints.

It can affect any joint, and any number of joints. Some people may only ever experience it in one joint. For others it might move from one joint to another, while others again will experience symptoms in multiple joints at the same time.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis causes inflammation in and around the joints. It usually affects people who already have psoriasis, a skin condition that causes a red, scaly rash, especially on the elbows, knees, back, buttocks and scalp. However, some people develop the arthritic symptoms before the psoriasis, while others will never develop the skin condition.

Psoriasis can affect people of any age, both male and female, but psoriatic arthritis tends to affect more adults than young people. People with psoriasis may also have other types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but these aren’t linked to the psoriasis.

What is Psoriatic Arthritis?

With ankylosing spondylitis (AS) you may have symptoms that affect the joints and possibly ligaments in your spine. Some bones in the spine, referred to as vertebrae, may join together, reducing flexibility.

However AS varies widely from person to person – you may have very mild symptoms which don’t affect you very much at all.

For more information please see this guide from Versus Arthritis

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