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What is Inflammatory Arthritis? Your Immune System and Joint Pain Explained

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Are you experiencing joint pain, swelling, and warmth that seems to flare up for no apparent reason? Did you know that not all causes of arthritis and joint pain are due to an injury or wear and tear from activity? Inflammatory arthritis is a chronic disease that can be diagnosed at any age. It occurs when your immune system fails to regulate your body as it should.

So, what is inflammatory arthritis? Here is an overview of these conditions and how a functional medicine doctor can help provide holistic treatments that address the root cause.

What is Inflammatory Arthritis?

Inflammatory arthritis refers to a group of diseases caused by an overactive immune system. The most common symptoms associated with this condition are joint pain and stiffness. People may feel like they’re warm, swollen, and tender.

However, this condition can also affect other tissues in the body, including the lungs, heart, eyes, skin, and other organs. If left untreated, it could cause irreversible damage to your body. Early treatment can be the best way to relieve symptoms and limit the effects of inflammatory arthritis in the body.

There are several types of inflammatory arthritis. The best way to determine which type you have, along with the best treatment, is to see your medical professional. Here is an overview of some of the different types.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

This is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis. It usually affects the small joints in your hands and feet by causing the lining of the joint or tendons to become inflamed, warm, painful, and stiff. If left untreated, it could affect your heart, lungs, and eyes.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis can also be called “spondyloarthropathy,” which includes a combination of psoriasis (red, scaly patches on the skin in places such as the knees, elbows, and scalp) as well as pain and swelling. This can affect the large and small joints and sometimes the spine. Some people may experience complete swelling of a finger or toe.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)

People under the age of 16 can have inflammation in the joints and sometimes in the spine and ligaments that lasts more than six weeks resulting from this condition. Swelling or mobility problems, including a limp if the legs are affected, could be a sign of JIA. Getting your child checked for this condition is essential as some types of JIA can cause eye inflammation that can occur without symptoms and cause permanent damage.

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)

This inflammatory arthritis primarily affects the body’s spine and hip joints, breastbone, and large joints. This can cause a significant reduction in spinal motion. Many people with this condition have a gene called HLA-B27 that can confirm the diagnosis of this condition.

Gout and Pseudogout

Gout and Pseudogout (also known as calcium pyrophosphate dehydrate disposition disease or CPDD) are forms of arthritis caused by elevated levels of certain crystals in the body. Gout is when there is an excess of uric acid, causing crystallization of joints in the big toe and can raise the risk of kidney stones. CPPD occurs when calcium salts form in the joints and are engulfed by white blood cells that cause inflammation– most commonly in the wrists and knees.

Are You Interested in How Functional Medicine Can Treat Chronic Pain? Learn More! Functional Medicine Treatment for Chronic Disease: When a Doctor Says There Is Nothing Else They Can Do

What Causes Inflammatory Arthritis?

Many people associate this condition with their joints’ wear and tear, and while it’s not known what causes inflammatory arthritis in every patient, what is known is that the immune system doesn’t know when to stop.

Normally when your body is exposed to bacteria, viruses, or fungi, the immune system will produce white blood cells called lymphocytes and immune proteins that cause inflammation. Under usual circumstances, the production of lymphocytes and immune proteins is limited and resolves once the foreign substance is defeated.

However, if you have inflammatory arthritis, the immune response doesn’t know when to stop sending those signals. Your body attacks its own tissues instead of the foreign substance and causes continued inflammation. For this reason, inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune disorder since the immune system loses its ability to distinguish itself from something foreign in the body.

What Are Symptoms of Inflammatory Arthritis?

What Are Symptoms of Inflammatory Arthritis? Infographic

Although the different types of inflammatory arthritis can alter the symptoms that someone may experience, there are a few common signs. The most common symptoms of inflammatory arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness after periods of rest or inactivity, particularly in the morning
  • Swelling, redness, or feelings of warmth in the affected joints
  • Loss of mobility as the condition worsens
  • Inflammation of other areas in the body, such as the skin or internal organs like the lungs and heart

Many people with inflammatory arthritis can often experience alternating periods of “flares” that are highly intense symptoms with periods of inactivity. This can make it difficult for you to identify when you have it. However, if you’ve noticed that you are experiencing chronic periods of joint pain, this can be a major sign that you have inflammatory arthritis.

How Can a Functional Medicine Doctor Help Treat Inflammatory Arthritis?

Functional medicine can be one of the best ways to approach inflammatory arthritis. It takes a holistic approach that focuses on finding the root cause of your problems. Doctors may often try to prescribe medications to fix the symptoms you’re feeling, but functional medicine doctors will target the main reason for your issues.

Since inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, it typically affects several parts of your body. You may experience a wide range of irreversible medical conditions if left untreated. Your joints will be the main target, but you may experience complications in your lungs, heart, eyes, skin, and other organs. With the wide range of potential medical problems, you should seek help early on.

When you go to a functional medicine doctor, they may take a few approaches to your treatment. This approach is meant to promote overall health and ensure that your body gets the proper nourishment to support its necessary functions. Some things that might be involved with your inflammatory arthritis functional medicine treatment include:

  • Exercising regularly with yoga, walking, water aerobics, Pilates, and more
  • Alleviating stress through self-care and healthy stress management techniques
  • Removing trigger foods from your diet, such as coffee, sugar, wheat, and corn
  • Incorporating anti-inflammatory ingredients into your food such as Omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, or capsaicin

Every individual has different needs, so your treatment will be personalized. Depending on the type of inflammatory arthritis, your holistic doctor will prescribe a treatment that addresses the root cause of your pain and support your optimal health.

Dr. Joseph Radawi, MD, is a functional medicine doctor who targets treating chronic conditions that can’t always be treated with traditional medicine. He practiced emergency medicine for more than ten years before moving into functional medicine and adopting a holistic approach. At Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, we work towards evolving the medical practice by treating the whole person, rather than just your symptoms, to restore health and well-being for the long term.

If you’re struggling with any chronic condition such as inflammatory arthritis, we can help. We’re here to help you get to the root cause of your problems and alleviate your pain so you can return to a balanced lifestyle.

Are you struggling to find a solution to your inflammatory arthritis? Take the first step:

  • Watch our free webinar to learn about our approach to the health issues you are facing.
  • Schedule a free discovery call to discuss your health concerns and goals to see if our practice is a good fit for you.
  • After your discovery call – if we are a good fit, you’ll schedule a consultation with our doctor to dive deeper and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.

Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.