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What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is inflammation (irritation, soreness and swelling) that affects a joint. It causes cartilage – the smooth coating that protects the ends of bones – to break down.

Arthritis can cause joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It most often affects the fingers, wrists, hips and knees, but it can affect any joint where bones meet because cartilage is worn.

Nearly one in four adults have been diagnosed with arthritis , which can affect young people, too. We treat all types of arthritis, so that you can continue to work, play and enjoy life.

The Aurora Difference

Comprehensive Treatment for Arthritis

Arthritis is all about the body’s joints – an area where our team has particular expertise. People choose to see Aurora’s experts for arthritis care because we offer:

  • Leading-edge treatments: We offer tried-and-true treatments and treatments that aren’t available everywhere. Our surgeons were among the first in Wisconsin to offer direct anterior hip replacement, bilateral knee replacement and stemless shoulder replacement. We provide meniscus (knee cartilage) transplant and precise, robot-assisted surgery. Learn more about the Aurora difference.
  • Expert doctors: With dozens of orthopedic surgeons at Aurora, you’ll be able to see a doctor who specializes in your condition. Many of our providers have extra training in specific areas such as hand surgery or sports medicine.
  • Pain management specialists: We understand how pain management can help keep you going before or after surgery or while doing physical therapy. We offer extensive pain management help, from non-narcotic medications and counseling to integrative care like chiropractic or acupuncture. Read more about orthopedic pain we treat.
  • Convenient, integrated care: From joint pain relief and physical therapy to joint replacement and recovery, our entire team works together to provide a seamless care experience. We take care of the details – like sharing your test results with all your providers – so you can focus on getting better.

Symptoms & Causes

Symptoms of Arthritis

Most often, arthritis causes painful, stiff joints that are hard to move. Other symptoms include:

  • Joint swelling
  • Joints that are red, warm to the touch and tender
  • Pain with activity, such as standing, getting in or out of chairs, climbing stairs or reaching
  • A grating sensation or crunching feeling when you use the joint (crepitus)
  • Greater pain in the morning, when you first get out of bed

Arthritis Types & Causes of Arthritis

Doctors have identified dozens of types of arthritis. There are two main types that cause problems that may require orthopedic treatment:

  • Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis happens from wear and tear on joints. It might occur because of aging or after an injury or surgery.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Also called rheumatoid pannus, RA is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. RA happens when the body’s immune system begins to mistakenly attack healthy cells. Learn more about rheumatoid pannus.


Diagnosing Joint Problems From Arthritis

When you see a doctor for arthritis-related joint pain, we’ll review your medical history and symptoms. We might also:

  • Observe how your joint moves
  • Evaluate the alignment of the joints in your arm or leg
  • Check your reflexes, muscle strength, range of motion and stability
  • Take X-rays – images of your bones – so that we can see if they are rubbing together or if they’ve grown bone spurs (outgrowths that can be painful)

After your initial evaluation, we may need to collect more information about how the joint is working. We might get this information from:

  • CT scans: Computed tomography (CT) scans combine X-rays from different angles into images of soft tissue and bone.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI scan takes detailed images of the bones and soft tissue, including cartilage that might be damaged by arthritis.
  • Blood tests: We may perform a blood test to determine if you have rheumatoid arthritis or if another condition is affecting your health.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.


Treating Arthritis

The right arthritis treatment for you will depend on what type of arthritis you have and how severe it is. Our doctors will clearly explain your treatment options and create a care plan that’s right for you.

Less-Invasive Arthritis Care

Often, lifestyle changes and simple procedures can provide pain relief and reduce stress on your joints. We may recommend arthritis treatments like:

  • Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain medications relieve pain and inflammation so that you move more freely. Topical pain-relieving creams can help, too.
  • Exercise and weight loss: Extra weight puts strain on joints. We may recommend low-impact exercise like walking, cycling, swimming or the Feldenkrais Method.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can strengthen the muscles that support joints to reduce joint pressure. You’ll also learn less painful ways to do everyday activities. Learn more about orthopedic physical therapy.
  • Steroid injections: We may inject medications that reduce pain and inflammation and make joint movement easier. Learn more about injections for joint pain.
  • Joint aspiration: Aspiration uses a needle to draw excess fluid (called synovial fluid) from your joint. Joint aspiration can relieve pressure, swelling and pain. We may send the fluid to the lab to help us better understand which type of arthritis you have.

Surgical Treatments for Arthritis

If nonsurgical solutions don’t resolve your arthritic pain or movement problems, we also offer surgical procedures including joint replacement, minimally invasive arthroscopy and ligament reconstruction. Our surgical treatments include:

  • Cartilage repair: Osteoarthritis can damage cartilage, which causes rubbing and pain in the joint. Using minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery with thin, flexible surgical instruments, we can repair damaged cartilage and relieve pain. Read more about cartilage repair.
  • Joint replacement: Our orthopedic surgeons have years of expertise performing and even developing joint replacement options. Joint replacement replaces a damaged joint with an artificial joint so you can move comfortably again. Learn about our options for treating joint problems.
  • Cartilage or meniscus transplant: A cartilage transplant can help regrow cartilage that has been damaged, leading to improved motion and less pain. By using your own healthy cartilage or cartilage from a donor, we’re able to repair damaged tissues – often in and around the knee. Another option for arthritic knee problems is a meniscus transplant, where damaged cartilage between the thigh and shin bones is replaced with a healthy meniscus. Find out more about meniscus transplant.
  • MAKOplasty® partial knee resurfacing: MAKOplasty is a minimally invasive alternative to knee replacement. Learn more about treatments for knee pain.

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