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May is Arthritis Awareness Month!

Updated: May 29, 2020

“Shout out to all of us fighting a battle that most people 

don’t understand. Keep hanging in there.”


Creator: PeopleImages

Credit: Getty Images

What Is Arthritis, Exactly?

The work arthritis is derived from the Greek words arthro-, meaning “joint,” and -itis, meaning “inflammation.” Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints. Main symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age.

There are several different kinds of arthritis you can be diagnosed with. Some more common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, gout and juvenile arthritis.

What Is The Difference Between Different More Common Diagnoses?

Osteoarthritis: Is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis was long believed to be caused by the wearing down of joints over time. But some scientists now see it as a disease of the joint. Contributing factors include age, obesity, overuse, genetics, weak muscles, joint injury, women are more likely to develop OA than men.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes the synovial membrane of the joint to become inflamed resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain, limited range of motion, joint deformity and disability. Research suggests that autoimmune response is triggered by an infectious agent in a genetically susceptible person such as a trigger in the environment, like a virus or bacteria, or physical or emotional stress or some other external factor.

Psoriatic Arthritis: Similar to RA in that psoriatic arthritis is also an autoimmune disease that mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain and resulting in damage. Researchers think a combination of genetics, and being triggered by an infectious agent in the environment, such as an infection, physical trauma or other external factors can play a role in developing the disease.

Reactive Arthritis: This inflammatory arthritis caused by bacteria can affect the joints, eyes, skin and urinary tract. It occurs when bacteria is contracted via sexual contact or eating spoiled food enters the bloodstream and causes your body to react with inflammation in different parts of the body. The inflammatory reaction typically begins within 2 to 4 weeks after infection but is not contagious.

Gout: Is an inflammatory disease that often results in swelling, redness, heat, pain and stiffness in the affected joint. Men are three times more likely to develop gout than women. Gout develops when uric acid levels are elevated and crystals begin to precipitate in the synovial fluid which begins the inflammatory response within the joint and surrounding tissues. Drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol, beer, high-purine foods and sugary drinks to help reduce uric acid buildup.

Juvenile Arthritis: Also known as pediatric rheumatic disease, JA isn’t a specific disease. It’s a term to describe the inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16. These conditions affect nearly 300,000 kids and teens in the United States. May cause joints to look red or swollen and feel stiff, painful, tender and warm. This can cause difficulty moving or completing everyday tasks. Joint symptoms may worsen after waking up or staying in one position too long. The cause of JA is unknown but thought to be similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. No current evidence indicates that foods, toxins, allergies or lack of vitamins cause the disease.

How Many People Suffer From These Conditions?

Over one in five Americans are affected by arthritic conditions. By the year 2030, approximately 25% of Americans will suffer from some degree of this ailment

The Importance Of Exercise:

Maintaining a healthy weight is an essential component to arthritis management. Exercising has several benefits including increased strength and flexibility, and reduces joint pain. Even low to moderate movements such as yin yoga and tai chi can ease pain when your joints are hurting and stiff. Lack of exercise weakens supporting muscles which creates more stiffness on your joints. 

Regular workouts can: 

  • Maintain weight 

  • Increase bone strength

  • Provide higher energy levels throughout the day

  • Help you get a sound sleep at night

  • Improve your quality of life

Always check with your doctor to find out what type of exercises are right for you and your specific arthritis diagnosis. 

Stress Can Induce Flare-Ups:

My April blog addresses stress management in little more depth but in short, an increased heart rate and muscle tension repeated over time can signal the immune system’s inflammatory response. This response can drive the joint damage. Several other factors such as poor sleep quality can lower your desire to exercise which can cause more joint pain and continue the poor sleep cycle. Lower energy levels can also cause you to reach for quick, energy dense foods that are high in calories and fat and low in nutrients. 

Steps I Can Take To Help!

The good news is that this pattern can be broken! There are several options from acupuncture to therapy. If that is too much for your wallet, I would suggest giving meditation a try.


I spoke about this last month but I think it bears repeating. Many people (including myself) may have or have had a preconceived notion of what meditation entails until you try it. There are a few free apps available such as Headspace and Calm. They each offer a free guided meditation session along with a few helpful videos if you are new to that approach. You don’t have to commit more than a few minutes a day to start your new practice. Subscriptions are available if you’d like to stick with the apps, you can also find assorted free guided meditation sessions on YouTube. Meditation can help lower your heart rate but it provides so much more. It allows you some space from yourself and your emotions so you can observe your thoughts and emotions without getting too involved with them. Mediation offers you a way to break old patterns, even though it’s hard and takes some time to achieve, it gives you some tools to set yourself on a calmer more self-aware path. 

Food And Arthritis:

Developing healthy eating habits is a necessary component for healthy living, no matter who you are or where you live. Part of the trouble is not knowing which foods are best to consume and how they help you feel better and improve your overall quality of life. There are no miracle diets, regardless of what you heard from a friend or read online. The best approach is to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins such as chicken and fish, including salmon, mackerel and herring due to their omega 3 content. Polyunsaturated fats examples include nuts and seeds, olive and sunflower oils into your diet. (For a clearer picture of recommended portion sizes, please visit my March Post that covers National Nutrition Month and how much you should be eating.)

These foods are commonly found in the Mediterreanean Diet. Nutrients found in this diet contain anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce joint swelling, morning stiffness and pain. Antioxidants provide protection against free radicals and cell damage. Healthy oils provide a source of heart healthy fats and can lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. (REMEMBER: Fat sources are good in moderation. Meaning  that more is not always better. Stick to recommended serving portions, otherwise you are just consuming extra calories and fat.)

A Word About Fibromyalgia?

I couldn’t finish this post without briefly mentioning Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is the second most common musculoskeletal condition encountered by rheumatologists affecting over 4 million adults in the US, mostly women. It is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness, interrupted sleep, depression, fatigue, concentration and memory problems. Symptoms can also include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, face or jaw pain, digestive issues such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and even irritable bowel syndrome. 

There are no specific dietary practices for people suffering from this condition. It is best to work with your doctor and registered dietitian to find which foods work best for your system. Other types of treatment mentioned prior such as medications, exercise, patient education and stress management can all be helpful to reduce symptoms and improve  quality of life. 

It’s important to remind yourselves and each other that you are not alone, there is help available. And Remember….Health starts from the inside out!

To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at

A Little About Me:

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I am currently a student studying Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the District of Columbia. I am set to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. My goal after graduation is to pursue a dietetic internship with a focus on clinical dietetics. I am interested in transplant, renal and gastrointestinal issues. All the information presented within this blog is backed by the credible sources cited below.


Fibromyalgia. (2017, October 11). Retrieved from

How do exercise and arthritis fit together? (2018, December 19). Retrieved from

Nelms, M. et al. (2016). Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology (3rd ed.). 

Boston, MA.: Cengage Learning. 

(n.d.). Retrieved from

Shen, F. H., Keller, T. C., & Samartzis, D. (2020, March 18). Arthritis. Retrieved from

What is the Mediterranean Diet? (n.d.). Retrieved from

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