Rheumatic disorders are musculoskeletal disorders that affect movement and are characterised by pain, swelling, and redness in the joints or affected areas. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), rheumatic disorders can be characterised as joint disease, spinal disorder, and physical disability. Certain conditions that arise from trauma can also be categorised as rheumatic disorders.
Most common rheumatic disorders
There are over 200 different types of rheumatic diseases that each affect the body in unique ways. Here are some of the most common rheumatic disorders:
Osteoarthritis is a condition where the cartilage protecting the end of bones gets worn out over time. Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that aids smooth movement of the limbs and when the cartilage gets worn out, the bones rub against each other, causing severe pain and swelling.
While osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, it most commonly occurs in the knees, hips, hands, or spine. The symptoms of osteoarthritis are irreversible but can be managed through lifestyle modifications.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the lining of joints. This condition results in inflammation of various parts of the body and eventually leads to erosion of the bone.
The main symptoms of rheumatic arthritis include tender and swollen joints, joint stiffness (particularly in the morning), fatigue, and fever.
This type of arthritis affects the bones of the spine and nearby joints, causing severe pain. In rare instances, the vertebrae may fuse, making the spine rigid, inflexible and possibly resulting in an abnormal posture. This disease can also affect other organs of the body, resulting in fatigue, fever, and inflammation.
Psoriatic arthritis affects individuals who suffer from psoriasis and it is an autoimmune disease. Similar to other forms of arthritic joint pain, stiffness and swelling occur in patients with psoriatic arthritis. In addition, swollen fingers or toes, changes in nails, eye redness, painful and scaly skin are also other common symptoms of this condition.
Gout occurs when an individual has too much uric acid in their blood and it can result in the formation of sharp crystals in the joints. Gout can occur more commonly in the big toe, but it can also occur in the knees, hands, wrists, or ankles.
The main symptom of gout is severe pain in the affected area that lasts for 3-10 days. Following the initial onset of pain, the individual may not experience any pain for several months or years. Gout occurs more commonly in men, and it has a higher incidence in individuals that are overweight, drink alcohol, or have a family history of gout.
How are rheumatic disorders treated?
Each type of rheumatic disorder requires treatments specific to the symptoms present. Some of the treatment modalities include:
The most commonly prescribed medications are corticosteroid and anti-rheumatic drugs that can slow down the progression of the disease. Oral analgesics like acetaminophen and topical analgesics are also prescribed to relieve pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are also prescribed to ease pain.
Heat and cold therapy
Depending on the type of arthritis, a physician might prescribe heat or cold therapy to provide relief. Moist or dry heat can be applied to the region of the joints to obtain pain relief, this is done for example, by placing an ice pack wrapped in a towel over the joint to provide pain relief.
Assistive devices like canes and crutches may help to lessen the stress on the affected joint. Similarly, using a splint or braces may also help to keep the affected area well protected and prevent further damage to the joint.
Other forms of treatment like exercise, physical therapy, and occupational therapy may also be effective. For some individuals, a massage may be an effective way to relax the muscles and increase mobility. In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended.
Rheumatic disorders are more than just joint pain and inflammation, they can affect any part of the body. Most rheumatic disorders are the end result of a number of factors like genetics, lifestyle, and environmental conditions. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment prevents the exacerbation of rheumatic disorders.