Osteoarthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is a very common disease, and is, in simpler terms, the “wear and tear” of the joints. The actual underlying cause of degenerative joint disease (DJD) is repetitive motion that results in the eventual swelling, redness and inflammation with resultant structural joint damage. The usual spots, as one might imagine, are, therefore, those areas most used in repetitive motion, such as knees, wrists, hands, shoulders, hips, etc.
The body, in an efficient attempt to clean up and protect damaged tissue, implements a repetitive cycle post joint damage and inflammation, leading then to the break down of the cartilage that acts as the facilitator to the joint. This cartilage continually creates a smooth, gliding surface to both cushion the joint(s) and allow efficient movement of the joints. Therefore. the smallest amount of trauma will trigger inflammation, as the body is attempting to protect the undamaged tissue.
Though any joint may become affected by osteoarthritis or DJD, the joints most affected are knees, hands, hips and spine, with more than 50 percent of adults over the age of 65 affected by DJD. This condition is heavily associated with pain, loss of function, reduced endurance, and, ultimately lead into weight gain and further complications.
The risk factors associated with this disorder include repetitive motion, repeat infections, rheumatoid arthritis, post-joint trauma, muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis, hormone disorders, obesity, sickle cell disease, and other various bone disorders. Though this disorder occurs equally between men and women, up to the age of 55, women are at a greater increased risk of being diagnosed after the age of 55, as opposed to men who have decreased risk of being diagnosed after 55 years of age. Osteoarthritis of the knee affect more African American women than any other group, with higher rates observed, in general, in the knees of women and the hips in men.
This disease may present with pain, stiffness, limited range of motion, loss of flexibility, swelling, weakness, deformed joints, and damaged cartilage in specific areas of the body. These symptoms only get worse as the disease progresses.
Most often diagnosed by a primary care provider, using patient history, physical examination, imaging (including Xrays, MRI, CT or bone scans), as well as in person consultation this disease can feel overwhelming, and hopeless, but there is multiple ways to maintain and increase quality of life while diagnosed with osteoporosis or DJD. These include gradual weight loss, acetaminophen and NSAIDs (for those able to tolerate such treatment), stronger pain management, corticosteroid injections, and rehabilitation, to name just a few available and currently used treatments. If these treatments, as well as rehabilitation work with a physical therapist, are not helpful in controlling your disease and/or pain levels, there remains the possibility of referral to an orthopedic surgeon for joint arthroplasty.
Betty Cohn is a retired registered nurse with 35 years of experience in the medical field in a variety of roles. She will write a semi-monthly column about medical-related topics and welcomes questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.