Degenerative Arthritis Explained

As the global population becomes older, the number of people suffering from Degenerative Arthritis also keeps rising. A disease that by definition affects multiple joints, it is difficult to prevent, virtually devoid of a cure, but can be managed with optimum mix of different clinical measures. It is important that those suffering from it understand the nature of their condition.
Degenerative Arthritis Explained
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Degenerative Arthritis: A Disease of Joints

DEGENERATIVE ARTHRITIS refers to a disease of swelling and deformity of joints resulting from accelerated wear and tear, or degeneration of the joint parts, especially the joint cartilage.

Degeneration is the gradual wear and tear of body tissues. If it happens as part of normal aging, it is not exactly a disease. However, when degeneration of a particular part is selectively accelerated, severe and causes symptoms, it takes the form of a degenerative disease. When the affected parts are joints, it is called DEGENERATIVE ARTHRITIS.

Degenerative Arthritis is the most common variety of OSTEOARTHRITIS. Osteoarthritis can also

occur from conditions like congenital deformity, injuries, infections, inflammatory diseases, diabetes, obesity and some rare metabolic disorders, but it’s most common cause remains degenerative arthritis arising from changes of cartilage of joints.

Degenerative Arthritis & Old Age

Degenerative changes are related with age, but they are not seen in all the individuals at the same time. In many it may not appear even at an age approaching hundred years. On the other hand, in others it may appear as early as fifties. The degenerative changes within joints can be seen in the X-ray much before any symptoms like pain appear. In about 80% people some degenerative changes in joints can be found at the age of 65 years, though less than 60% show any symptom of arthritis. Most cases of degenerative arthritis therefore depict changes that come with aging but are somewhat accelerated for some unknown reasons.

What Goes Wrong in Degenerative Arthritis

Within the joint, the end of the bones that come in contact with each other are covered by a hard and smooth fibrous material called CARTILAGE, which is made of collagen fibers. The cartilage reduces the friction between the bones allowing a smooth movement without any strain or injuries. With aging and degeneration, the cartilage becomes older, loses collagen and becomes somewhat stiff. This stiffening increases the friction within the joint, which gradually causes injury to the cartilage. Such injuries lead to total degeneration of cartilage, because of which the buffering cushion between the bones is lost and the bones start coming

in contact with each other. Since bones are much rougher compared to the smooth cartilages, the amount of friction between bones is much greater which causes pain and restriction of joint movement.

As the bones rub against each other, the injury leads to swelling of surrounding structures like the joint covering called SYNOVIAL MEMBRANE. This causes pain, redness and swelling of the joint. Characteristically, the symptoms of degenerative arthritis are least in the morning and as the joint is used, the severity of these symptoms increases during the course of the day. This feature of degenerative arthritis is contrary to Rheumatoid Arthritis, wherein the symptoms are at their worst in the morning and improve during the course of the day.

A Common Affliction which can only be Managed

Degenerative arthritis is the most common cause of arthritis, affecting nearly 20 million persons in the United States alone. In Japan with an aging population it is even more common than United States. The most commonly affected joints in degenerative arthritis are hands, feet, spine, hip and knee. In the smaller joints, the friction and degenerative changes are associated with growth of bone called 'nodes'.

Degenerative arthritis cannot be reversed or cured, but appropriate treatment can provide substantial relief from symptoms and also improve functioning level of joints. Most important manifestation of this arthritis is pain. In the early phase, pain can be controlled by Acetaminophen, but as it becomes more severe, NSAIDs may be more effective. In very severe cases, opioid pain killers may be required. Proper rest and regulated exercise helps in keeping the symptoms minimized. Support to joints in the form of braces may be helpful. Massages with hot or cold packs also provide relief. When simpler forms of treatment are ineffective, steroid injections in the affected joint can reduce swelling and pain. In intractable pain, surgery is the last option for providing relief.

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