Our immune system is an amazing network of cells that function from very basic to highly complex levels. The purpose of this system is to protect us from our environment and watch for any early damage in our own cells. Sometimes, however, the system goes awry and misreads signals. As a result, our defenses do not recognize our own body at work, and begin “attacking” cells. This leads to illnesses called autoimmune (self-immune) diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints), systemic lupus erythematosus (commonly known as “lupus,” an inflammatory disease of connective tissue), and vasculitis (inflammation of a vessel of the body).
A fracture is a break, usually in a bone. If the broken bone punctures the skin, it is called an open or compound fracture. Fractures commonly happen because of car accidents, falls or sports injuries. Other causes are low bone density and osteoporosis, which cause weakening of the bones. Overuse can cause stress fractures, which are very small cracks in the bone.
The word arthritis means inflammation of the joint (“arthr” meaning joint and “itis” meaning inflammation). Inflammation is a medical term describing pain, stiffness, redness and swelling. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most prevalent kind of arthritis, affecting more than three million Canadians. It occurs when cartilage (the tough elastic material that covers and protects the ends of bones) begins to wear away. Cartilage is an essential part of the joint; not only does it act as a shock absorber, it also enables the joint to move smoothly. With OA, the cartilage erodes, eventually resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling and bone-on-bone movement in the affected joint.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue. This leads to increased bone fragility and risk of fracture (broken bones), particularly of the hip, spine, wrist and shoulder. Osteoporosis is often known as “the silent thief” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. Osteoporosis is sometimes confused with osteoarthritis, because the names are similar. Osteoporosis is a bone disease; osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints and surrounding tissue.