Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease


What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the bone and joints where there is breakdown of the joint tissue and structure, resulting in pain in the joints and reduced joint movement. As it involves joint breakdown, or degeneration, it is a degenerative joint disease. It is the most common type of joint disease seen across the world.

Osteoarthritis is commonly seen in individuals over the age of 50. It is also more common in women. Millions of people all over the world suffer from osteoarthritis, with the American College of Rheumatology reporting that over 27 million people in the United States suffer from it.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

There are many causes of osteoarthritis, but the most common cause is aging. As one gets old, it is natural for the joints to get weaker and the tissues to lose their strength. This results in degeneration of the bone and joint tissue, resulting in osteoarthritis. In addition, there is also inflammation of the bone and joints that causes pain.

However, osteoarthritis can occur in younger patients, especially those who place their joints under a lot of stress every day. These can include athletes, as well as people involved in occupations that commonly stress the back and joints, such as builders or painters.

People who have a family member who suffers from osteoarthritis can also develop this condition. Also, patients who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

There are a number of symptoms that patients can experience when suffering from osteoarthritis. These can include joint stiffness and reduced movement, pain upon movement and swelling of the affected joints. As a result of these, the patient may have trouble performing their daily tasks, prompting them to see a doctor. When examined, patients may have tender, swollen joints with limited capability of movement.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hips, knees, lower back and the small joints of the hands and feet. Among these, the knee is the most common joint affected.

In most cases, osteoarthritis can be diagnosed from clinical history and examination of the patient. In some cases, x-rays will reveal damage to the joint with changes specific to osteoarthritis, such as irregular bone margins and narrowed joint spaces. In some cases, an MRI scan may need to be performed.

How is Osteoarthritis treated?

There are a number of different treatment options that your doctor may offer you. These can include:

  • Pain killers: These may be offered to reduce the inflammation and to reduce pain. Drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are often used.
  • Physical therapy: Sometimes, doctors may refer patients to a physical therapist, who may prescribe a treatment plan that will help reduce pain and increase joint movement. They may even offer certain aids to help walk about and manage tasks at home.
  • Steroid injections: These may be offered by the doctor in case pain is severe and is not reduced by the above measures. It reduces pain and inflammation significantly when injected into the joint, but repeated injections may be required.