If you have aching, stiff joints, you may be thinking you have arthritis. There is more than one type of arthritis, and it's important to know which, if any, you have. The most common form of the condition is osteoarthritis, caused by wear and tear of the cartilage. Another form of the condition is rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease.

Osteoarthritis

Joints may wear down as a natural part of aging, but your risk of developing osteoarthritis increases if you have injured a joint, practiced poor body mechanics and posture, performed repetitive movements over the years or if you're overweight.

The main symptom of osteoarthritis is pain and stiffness in one or more joints that is at its worst at the end of the day and after stretches of time in which you were inactive, such as when sleeping or sitting in a movie theater. The condition can affect any joint, but is most common in the knee, lumbar spine, hands and hips. For some people, pain and stiffness are minor and intermittent. For others, pain is severe and constant. Bone spurs may develop from the bones rubbing against one another; in the spine, these spurs can impinge on nerves that run through the spinal, causing pain, tingling, numbness and / or weakness along the nerve pathway.

Standard treatments for osteoarthritis are centered around symptom management, as no methods have been proven to regenerate cartilage with rigid scientific backing. However, stem cell therapy may develop into a mainstream treatment for osteoarthritis and other degenerative conditions in the coming years. Another potential for cartilage regeneration, and at the very least disease modification, is oral salmon calcitonin.

Typically, treatment of osteoarthritis is limited to physical therapy in which patients learn exercises that strengthen muscles surrounding affected joints and stretches that increase range of motion. Water therapy, such as swimming and water aerobics, are helpful to many with osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatic degeneration of joints is caused by inflammation. The exact cause of this inflammation is unknown, but it is theorized that genetic and environmental factors such as smoking may play a role. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder; the body's inflammatory response, part of the immune system, goes haywire and attacks joints.

Inflammation is an important part of normal healing. It is characterized by the delivery of white blood cells, chemicals and fluids that facilitate healing to an injured area. However, the body may overreact, causing too much infection or inflammation that lasts for too long. In cases like rheumatoid arthritis, the body sparks the inflammatory process even when no injury is present. Inappropriate levels and durations of inflammation lead to tissue damage, not to mention pain. In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation invades the joint lining, causing it to break down. Bones may rub together or become damaged by the inflammation.

The main symptoms of this form of arthritis are pain, swelling, redness and warmth around joints. It's generally a symmetrical disease, affecting joints on both sides of the body, such as the feet and / or the hands. The inflammatory symptoms of swelling and redness combined with the symmetry of the disease can be used to distinguish it from osteoarthritis.

Typically, people with rheumatoid arthritis are treated with medications to control inflammation and / or slow the progress of the disease. NSAIDS are anti-inflammatories that can treat pain and inflammation in the joints; prolonged use of these drugs can lead to heart and stomach problems. Drugs that suppress the immune system, and therefrom the inflammatory response, are called biologics and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs); While they slow joint wear, these drugs also increase your risk of infection.

Management of symptoms is often pursued with conservative treatments like physical therapy and massage. Some people use steroid medications to manage the pain associated with flare-ups; these medications can lead to osteoporosis, diabetes and / or high blood pressure if used for a prolonged period of time. Although it has not been rigorously studies, an anti-inflammatory diet holds potential for reducing inflammation in the body and, therefore, arthritis symptoms. Learn more about such a diet at http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/biologics-10/ra-diet .

If your joint pain comes with signs of inflammation like redness, swelling and warmth, this indicates rheumatoid arthritis. If not, you may have osteoarthritis. Whatever your condition, there are options available that can help you manage pain and sometimes even slow joint wear. Check for clinical trials at http://clinicaltrials.gov/ if you wish to receive experimental treatment such as stem cell therapy and contribute to the advancement of research.