Basic Facts

  • Do you wake up in the morning with stiff joints?  
  • Does it take you longer to get out of bed than it used to?
  • Are your knees, hands, hips, neck or lower back aching more than before?  
  • Have you noticed that some of the joints in your hands and feet have become swollen?  
  • Is it getting harder to move in general?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be developing arthritis, the most common joint problem in older people.

What is Arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.  It occurs in older people because it is usually the result of long years of wear and tear on your body­­—most likely from normal physical activity or from past injuries. Eventually, all that history starts to take its toll, especially on your joints (the places where two or more bones meet). In fact, the word “arthritis” means “inflamed joint.”

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Surveys have shown that millions of adults are limited by arthritis in their ability to walk, climb stairs, bend, kneel, or participate in regular social activities such as going to places of worship or visiting with family and friends. For those still working, arthritis can make daily routines more and more challenging.  

The Most Common Types of Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis. The ones that occur most often are:


This is the most common type of arthritis. The ends of your bones are covered by a slippery, cushioning substance called cartilage. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber and allows your bones to slide smoothly against each other. With advancing age, injuries, or infections, your cartilage may start to deteriorate. This leaves your bones unprotected. They start to grind against each other whenever you move. Small holes and fractures start to appear in the bone surface, and bony growths—called osteophytes or bone spurs—may begin to appear. Sometimes, small bone fragments or bits of cartilage break off and interfere with the movement of the joint, causing more swelling and pain.

Eventually, the underlying bone, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, and even muscles become irritated and inflamed as well.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

This is the second most common form of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects many other joints, including your hands, wrists, elbow, shoulders, and feet. In this type of arthritis, your own immune system mistakenly starts to attack the tissues in your joints—particularly the synovium, a thin lining over your bones that helps keep your joints moving well. Other body tissues may also be targeted, including muscles, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves, and skin. Most cases appear before the age of 60 but some appear after. Rheumatoid arthritis is often a life-long, progressive disease.


Gout is caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals within the joint where it causes intense pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.

Infectious Arthritis

This type of arthritis occurs when an infection spreads into a joint.

How Common is Arthritis?

Approximately 50 million adults have been diagnosed with some kind of arthritis in the United States, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia. In fact, about half of Americans over the age of 65 have been told they have arthritis by their healthcare provider.

Women are slightly more likely to get a diagnosis of arthritis than men, although gout is more common in men. Also, if you are overweight or obese, your chance of developing arthritis increases.


Last Updated August 2020