Getting up in the morning with joint pain or joint stiffness is something you should not shake off, disregard, or take lightly. Paying attention to the early signs of arthritis can help you minimize or completely reverse the condition which can become a source of constant nag and botheration in your life.
Best advice: Do not disregard. Instead, pay close attention.
If you are experiencing joint pain, details matter.
When you consult with your doctor, you will be asked if joint pain developed suddenly or gradually and how long the joint pain has persisted. Your doctor will want to also know if the pain worsens with physical activity or if the pain goes away completely when resting. Be prepared to discuss what you do to effectively relieve the pain.
It is human nature to look at the least worst scenario. Once you have gone over in your mind what might have caused your joint pain, with injury likely being your first thought, you must consider arthritis as a possibility.
Joint tenderness refers to exactly that — tenderness around a joint. Often this occurs in combination with other signs — joint pain, joint effusion, joint swelling, warmth, redness. Your doctor will ask you what may have caused the tenderness — and once again, unless you can point to a specific incident or injury, you must consider arthritis as a possibility.
Joint stiffness can be one of the earliest signs of arthritis.
Joint stiffness is defined as discomfort after a period of inactivity (such as waking up in the morning or sitting for an extended period of time), decreased range of motion or a loss of range of motion in a joint.
With osteoarthritis, joint stiffness after waking may last up to 30 minutes. With inflammatory types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus, the stiffness typically lasts more than one hour (referred to as morning stiffness). You should consult a doctor about persistent joint stiffness even if there is no obvious redness or swelling around the joint.
Joint redness usually indicates there is some sort of inflammatory process occurring. After observing the joint redness, your doctor will perform tests (sedrate, CRP) to help determine the cause of joint inflammation, which can be caused by many conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and infection. Treatment for any of these conditions should not be delayed.
Similar to the situation with redness, warmth is a sign that something is wrong. Redness and warmth typically go together and serve as indicators of inflammation or infection. This sign is not to be ignored. There can be serious consequences if you ignore warmth and redness around your joints.
The initial onset of arthritis can be associated with fever. This is a symptom that is linked to many different conditions — but don’t forget that arthritis is one of those conditions. A fever develops as the body raises its temperature to fight infection or in response to some forms of arthritis.
If you have taken your temperature using a thermometer, don’t be misled by a normal result after using Tylenol or other medications that can mask a fever. If fever occurs in combination with joint stiffness or tenderness — the clinical picture is developing and favoring a diagnosis of arthritis.
The malaise has been described as a general ill feeling or ill-at-ease feeling — a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or lack of well-being. Many conditions and drug side effects can cause malaise. By assessing other symptoms which are present with malaise, it is easier to determine the true cause of malaise. For example, the likely cause of malaise for arthritis patients is the combined effect of inflammation, joint pain, and other joint symptoms.
Another sign related to arthritis is excessive fatigue. We all get tired from time to time, but excessive fatigue implies a deep-rooted fatigue that’s present even after sleeping 8 hours or following an afternoon nap. You feel fatigued at times when you normally would expect not to feel fatigued.
Like malaise, excessive fatigue can result from the combined effects of inflammation and joint symptoms. Don’t ignore fatigue or shake it off as just being a little tired. It’s another arthritis sign that must not be ignored.
Certain types of arthritis are associated with nodules, or lumps that commonly develop near a joint. At first, you may not recognize them for what they really are. Don’t ignore the lumps or nodules. Let a doctor evaluate the nodules because certain characteristics — such as their location, size, and composition — are useful during the diagnostic process. For example, did you know that firm, non-tender, subcutaneous nodules develop in about 25% of rheumatoid arthritis patients?
We have discussed physical signs of arthritis, especially some of the ones that appear early in the course of the disease. There’s one other sign that you must honestly assess. Are your usual daily activities becoming much more difficult? If the answer is yes, this too may be an arthritis sign.
Arthritis signs tend to snowball: joint pain and stiffness can lead to fatigue and malaise. Joint stiffness also affects the normal range of motion which, in turn, cause you to have more difficulty performing usual daily activities. And so it goes, each arthritis sign impacts another.
It is imperative that you recognize early arthritis signs. Consult a doctor for guidance about treatment options and managing the disease. If you choose to ignore arthritis signs, you risk further joint damage, and ultimately, you risk disability.
By Carol Eustice
Arthritis & Joint Conditions Expert