There are over 100 different arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions that affect the muscles, bones and joints. In Victoria, 1.5 million people have arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and ankylosing spondylitis.
Anyone can get arthritis, including children and young people. It can affect people from all backgrounds, ages and lifestyles.
Symptoms of arthritis
Arthritis affects people in different ways and each type of arthritis will have specific symptoms. However, common symptoms across the many types of arthritis are:
- swelling in a joint
- redness and warmth in a joint
- stiffness or reduced movement of a joint
- general symptoms such as fatigue and feeling unwell.
Sometimes, these symptoms are called ‘rheumatism’. Rheumatism isn’t a disorder in itself, but the word is often used to describe any sort of joint or muscle pain.
Diagnosis of arthritis
As there are so many different types of arthritis, it is important that you seek a diagnosis if you suspect you have the condition. Treatment, especially medication, can differ greatly between different forms of arthritis. A correct diagnosis can mean you get the most appropriate care.
Speak to your doctor about your symptoms. They will take your history, examine your joints and may order an x-ray and some tests. If appropriate, your doctor will refer you to a specialist, often a rheumatologist, for diagnosis and specialised management of your condition.
Management of arthritis
Living with arthritis can be different from person to person, and symptoms can vary from day to day. Treatment and management options vary with the type of arthritis, its severity and the parts of the body affected.
There is no cure for arthritis. Management options can include medical treatment and medication, physiotherapy, exercise and self-management techniques.
Your arthritis healthcare team
A range of health professionals are able to help you manage your arthritis. These may include:
- your doctor
- occupational therapist
- exercise physiologist
Medication for arthritis
Different types of arthritis are treated by different medications. Some arthritis medications aim to reduce pain and inflammation. Others can slow down damage to joints in some types of arthritis.
The medication your doctor prescribes will depend on your type of arthritis and the severity of your symptoms. It is important to discuss any medication or other treatment with your doctor or rheumatologist so they can monitor your treatment.
The most common medications include:
- Pain-relieving medications (analgesics) – have no effect on the joint or your arthritis. They simply stop you feeling the pain.
- Creams and ointments – can be rubbed into the skin over a painful joint to relieve pain.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – treat inflammation, pain and swelling.
- Corticosteroids and injections into the joint – if you have severe pain and inflammation in your joints, then your doctor may prescribe a stronger anti-inflammatory medicine called a corticosteroid. These can be taken as tablets or given by injection directly into a joint, muscle or other soft tissue.
- Disease-modifying medications – are used for inflammatory forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Biological medications – are treatments for people with inflammatory forms of arthritis. Biological medications work by targeting certain proteins that are overproduced, causing inflammation and damage to bones, cartilage and tissue.
Tips for managing arthritis
There are many things you can do to manage your arthritis, including:
- Stay active – physical activity is the key to maintaining muscle strength, joint flexibility and managing your pain. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can help design an individual program for you. This can be arranged by your doctor on a GP Management Plan as part of managing chronic illness.
- Learn ways to manage pain – there are many strategies you can use to deal with pain. Knowing about these and what works best for you is an important part of living with a chronic condition such as arthritis.
- Watch your diet – while there is no diet that can cure arthritis, a healthy and well-balanced diet is the best for general good health. Keeping to a healthy weight is also important as any extra weight puts added strain on your joints. In particular load bearing joints such as your hips, knee and ankles.
- Protect your joints – find out about aids, equipment and gadgets that can make tasks easier. An occupational therapist can give you advice on aids, equipment and home modifications. The Independent Living centre can also be a very useful contact for information and advice.
- Work closely with your healthcare team – the best way to live well with arthritis is by working closely with all the practitioners who make up your healthcare team.
- Enrol in a self-management course – self-management educational programs can help people with arthritis and other chronic conditions to build their skills and confidence to live with their condition Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria can provide information on managing pain and fatigue, as well as other self-management strategies.
- Join a peer support group – dealing with a chronic condition can be isolating. Being able to speak with others who understand your condition can be a great relief
Peer support groups exist around Victoria for people with all different forms of arthritis. Contact Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria for details of your nearest group. This information can also be found on the Arthritis Map.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Exercise physiologist
- Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria Tel. (03) 8531 8000 or 1800 263 265
- Musculoskeletal (MSK) Help Line at Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria Tel. 1800 263 265
- Medicines Line (Australia) Tel. 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) – for information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines
- Australian Psychological Society Tel. (03) 8662 3300 or 1800 333 479
- Dietitians Association of Australia Tel. (02) 6163 5200 or 1800 812 942
- Australian Physiotherapy Association Tel. 1300 306 622
- Occupational Therapy Australia Tel. (03) 9415 2955
- Independent Living Centre Tel. (03) 9362 6111 or 1300 885 886
Things to remember
- Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions refers to over 100 different conditions that affect the muscles, bones and joints.
- It is important to stay active to keep your joints moving and your muscles strong.
- Live well with arthritis by working closely with your professional healthcare team.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Arthritis Victoria incorporating Osteoporosis Victoria
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.