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Arthritis is a disease that involves inflammation of the joints, making them painful, stiff and less able to move freely. In severe cases, the inflammation can be crippling and interfere with daily tasks, such as walking and getting dressed. Arthritis is a leading cause of disability, and the risk for developing it increases with age. Its cause is unknown, but researchers are studying genetic factors as well as a person’s lifestyle.
There are several types of arthritis, but the two most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of cartilage, the hard but slick buffer tissue between joints. Cartilage damage usually comes from normal wear and tear, but an injury can hasten its breakdown. Without cartilage, bones touch bones, restricting mobility and causing pain. Rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system attacks the body instead of protecting it—in this case, the lining of the joint capsule called the synovial membrane. This membrane, once swollen, can lead to cartilage and bone damage.