Degenerative Joint Disease and Osteoarthritis

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By Dr. Stefanie Yao
Published on October 30, 2014

What is Degenerative Joint Disease?

Degenerative joint disease is not really a disease per-say but rather a degenerative wear and tear of joint surfaces. Joint surfaces when we are young have smooth ends covered with cartilage which line the joints so joints can glide and move easily without causing pain. Over our lifetime of use, overuse and repetitive activities, joints start to develop wear and tear. The tissues involved the most in arthritis is the cartilage and underlying subchondral bone. Cartilage is the smooth white material that forms over the ends of the bones forming the moving surface of the joint on both sides. Cartilage is a tough elastic like material that is comprised of collagen and water molecules. Cartilage does not have a blood supply but receives its oxygen and nutrition from surrounding joint fluid by diffusion.

Degenerative wear and tear typically happens on the joint surfaces of the cartilage which end up rubbing together leading to micro-tearing and wearing away of joint surfaces. The wearing away of the joint surfaces can be accompanied with bony changes such as osteophytes, narrowing of joint spaces or hardening of bone at the surface and even sometimes deformities of the joints. Degenerative joint disease can often lead to symptoms of inflammation, swelling, stiffness and pain. Typically degenerative joint disease is a type of arthritis or osteoarthritis (OA) which can occur in fingers, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, feet and back, basically wherever there are bones and joints.

Osteoarthritis Is Joint Degeneration:

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of joint disease and spares no age, race or geographic area. However there are some factors that may predispose some individuals to joint degeneration, osteoarthritis. Hereditary, genetic issues, injury, fractures around a joint surface and repetitive/overuse factors which repetitively load a joint can place an individual at a higher risk of developing degenerative joint disease.

There are three common forms of osteoarthritis that can occur in different joints throughout our lifetime as we age. The most common site is OA at the base of the thumb joint, knee and hands. The second most common site involves the spine either the neck, mid-back and low back. while the third area of arthritis involves weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips.

Osteoarthritis, degenerative changes of the spine can occur with bony growths called osteophytes which can be associated with narrowing of the space between the vertebrae and joints. These bony and cartilaginous changes in the spine can narrow disc spaces which can place increased forces on joints and bones which may lead to pain.

Diagnosis of degenerative spinal and joint changes tends to be confirmed with x-ray findings, but medical history and physical exam from a qualified healthcare professional such as Chiropractor, Physiotherapist or Medical Doctor is important in making the diagnosis. Though x-rays tend to be the tool of choice for making a diagnosis for spinal/joint degeneration, the degree of degeneration sometimes may not be a good marker for severity of individual symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease.

Symptoms Of Degenerative Joint Disease

Symptoms of degenerative joint disease may include joint stiffness that may last more than 15 minutes and may follow after activity. As degenerative joint disease progresses, pain may be associated with motion of the affected joint which can worsen with activity or with weight-bearing. In addition with progression of degenerative joint disease there may also be limitations in motion of the affected joint. Pain typically is relieved with rest and is not as bad at night, some individuals symptoms in the mornings tend to be better but worsen as the day progresses.

Treatment of osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease may depend on factors such as severity and progression of the disease, patient age, activities, medical conditions and x-ray findings. Patients can benefit from treatments with a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist in helping keep and preserve joint mobility and aid with pain management. In addition a supervised exercise program, using non-impact activities such as swimming, cycling and walking is beneficial as it is also important to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the affected joint and to preserve overall mobility.

One thought on “Degenerative Joint Disease and Osteoarthritis

  1. Dr Yao
    Thank you for writing a very informative article. I have some of these symptoms and find your explanations beneficial as a reminder and a review of my condition. I would be very interested in knowing what you recommend to clients when they ask you what kind of mattress they should sleep on. Please let me know. Thank you!
    Rick

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