Arthritis is nothing new: even dinosaurs had it. So did primitive man. The Latin word arthritis means "inflammation of the joint" but actually refers to many different forms of the disease. Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative arthritis), the most common type, usually results either from injury or from normal wear and tear on the cartilage of frequently used joints. The condition called rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and is more severe.
Early Americans called any disorder involving pain and stiffness in the joints rheumatism. Aching joints were often rubbed with warm chicken fat, goose grease, or skunk oil, sometimes mixed with wintergreen oil. The oil, at least, is still prescribed today for its pain-relieving properties.
Non-weight-bearing exercise is an important component of combating arthritis. When one is in pain, there is a natural tendency to minimize movement, but inactivity only weakens the muscles that stabilize the joints. Specialized stretching and strengthening exercises can help maintain flexibility. Swimming (preferably in a heated pool) and walking, as opposed to high-impact sports like tennis and running, are good ways to maintain overall fitness.
Arthritis is most easily treated when it is discovered early. See a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: persistent early-morning pain and stiffness in the joints; swelling; recurrent pain in any joint, especially joints on both sides of the body; loss of strength in association with joint pain; unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and fever accompanied by joint pain.