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Find out about Arthritis in the Arthritis Learning Centre. With information on causes and symptoms as well as ideas for how to manage Arthritis.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used for a group of conditions that affect the joints and muscles. Arthritis commonly results in pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage in joint cartilage.

Arthritis is not necessarily a natural part of the ageing process.

Arthritis affects 1 in 5 people and there are over 100 different types.

Two common types are Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body's immune system is overactive and starts to attack healthy body tissue. In Rheumatoid Arthritis the immune system attacks the lining of the joints causing inflammation and damage.

Rheumatoid Arthritis involves inflammation (pain, heat and swelling) in the lining of the joints. Other parts of the body can also be affected, such as the organs. The inflammation results in fluid build up which causes swelling and stiffness, often making movement of the affected areas difficult or painful.

Rheumatoid Arthritis usually starts in middle age from about 35-64 years old, with about 57% of people with the disease being women.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

While research continues into the causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the exact cause is not yet fully understood. It is known that the condition can be triggered by a number of factors including smoking, viruses and infection. A family history of Rheumatoid Arthritis is often a risk factor.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Symptoms may vary between individuals. Some common symptoms include:

  • Inflammation of joint lining.
  • Pain, swelling and heat.
  • Joint stiffness often in the morning.
  • The same joints are usually affected on both sides of the body.
Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

It is important to seek medical advice early, as this can help to minimise joint damage and manage pain.

There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, but there are a range of ways to manage the disease:

  • Medication.
  • Daily living aids and equipment.
  • Exercise.
  • Rest and relaxation techniques.
  • Nutrition and diet.
  • Surgery.
Exercising with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exercise is important for maintaining healthy body weight, energy levels, muscle strength and tone, and overall well being.

People with Rheumatoid Arthritis can participate in appropriate levels of exercise without fear of damaging their joints. Consult your doctor or physiotherapist to develop an appropriate exercise program for your individual needs, so as not to put excessive pressure on joints.


What is Osteoarthritis?

Cartilage provides a layer of cushioning and protection for the point where bones connect. Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage in the joints where the layer of cartilage becomes thin and brittle. Sometimes the cartilage may break allowing pieces to float in the fluid surrounding the joints, causing inflammation.

Common joints that are affected by Osteoarthritis are the hips, knees, spine and hands. The condition usually affects people over 45 years but it can develop in younger people.

Osteoarthritis is not the same as Osteoporosis, which refers to the deterioration of bone structure and density (see Frailty).

Causes of Osteoarthritis:

The exact cause of Osteoarthritis is often not clear. Research shows some risk factors that may result in Osteoarthritis developing in certain joints, including being overweight, previous injury, or a family history of Osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis:

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis can vary from person to person. Symptoms often develop slowly over months and years, and often depend on which joints are affected. Some common symptoms include

  • Stiffness.
  • Joint pain.
  • Muscle weakness.
Management of Osteoarthritis:

There is no known cure for Osteoarthritis as yet, but there are a number of treatments and management strategies that can make living with the condition easier:

  • Pain relief medicines.
  • Anti inflammatory drugs.
  • Daily living aids and equipment.
  • Exercise.
  • Weight loss program (if overweight).
  • Joint replacement surgery.
General information about Arthritis:

Managing pain

  • Use appropriate medication and talk to your doctor.
  • A suitable exercise program can be very effective.
  • Heat packs and cold packs can help to ease pain.
  • Avoid activities that cause pain.
  • Ask for assistance to minimise joint damage.
  • Use assistive aids and devices. Aids for Daily Living has a wide range of aids specifically designed for use with Arthritis.
  • Massage and acupuncture may be helpful in managing pain.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is helpful for some people, however you should consult a physiotherapist to trial this technique.
  • Mental strategies such as relaxation may also be helpful.


  • There is no diet that has been proven to cure or cause Arthritis (gout being the exception).
  •  that foods containing Omega-3 can help to relieve inflammation, particularly in Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Weight does have an affect on Arthritis. Being overweight increases strain and stress on joints, so managing your weight can help to reduce joint stress and pain.
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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 Australians and wider 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.