Degenerative arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions that can chronically affect your joints. Learn more about this condition here.
In this article:
- Causes of Degenerative Arthritis
- Primary Osteoarthritis
- Secondary Osteoarthritis
- Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
- Treatment for Osteoarthritis
What Is Degenerative Arthritis?
Causes of Degenerative Arthritis
While degenerative arthritis can affect any of your joints, the areas most often affected include the hips, knees, back, neck, fingers, and big toe. When your joints are fit they are cushioned by a soft rubbery material called cartilage. Cartilage helps your joints glide while also providing a cushion between the two joints that are coming in contact with each other. When someone has degenerative arthritis, the cartilage breaks down, removing that barrier and leaving you with pain and a host of other problems. The condition becomes worse over time and can result in the growth of spurs as well as breaking and chipping of the bone and cartilage. Once the cartilage is gone, the condition is its final stage with the bones rubbing directly against each other.
What causes degenerative arthritis? There are two main types of degenerative arthritis and the cause of the condition is directly related to which type your doctor diagnoses you with.
When you have primary osteoarthritis it is typically associated with the body’s natural aging process. Over time the water content in your cartilage will increase and protein in it will begin to lessen. Once you have reached a certain age your joints have put in quite an amount of work and this overwork can lead to swelling. During this process, the cartilage will begin to slowly flake off creating imperfections in the cartilage.
With primary osteoarthritis, there is a risk of total cartilage deterioration which can lead to the friction of the bones. When this occurs you can develop bone spurs, increased pins, and reduced mobility. There have been some links of primary osteoarthritis in families especially when a collagen defect is present.
If you have secondary osteoarthritis, it means that another condition or disease has led to the breakdown of cartilage. While there are a number of conditions that can result in osteoarthritis some of the most common ones are:
- Repeated trauma
- Surgical procedures to the bone structure
- Joint abnormality
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hormone disorder
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
The symptoms that you may experience if you have osteoarthritis can vary from person to person and even day to day. You might have very minimal symptoms even with severe degeneration or you could have such severe symptoms that they become debilitating. Some may even have symptoms at intermittent levels, experiencing them for some time and then not for years. One of the most common symptoms associated with the condition is pain in the joints. Where the pain is will primarily have to do with where the affected joints are. As joint degeneration gets worse the pain can become debilitating. Typically joint pain will be worse as the day goes on especially after repeated joint use. There are other symptoms you may experience in concurrence with the pain. Some of these other symptoms include:
- Warmth in the affected joints
- Creaking when the joint moves
- Stiffness especially with inactivity
- Limited motion
- Contortion of the joint
- Bow-legged deformities
- Numbness and tingling
- Bony enlargements around the joints
- Bone spurs
- Finger nodes
Treatment for Osteoarthritis
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is a long-term, chronic disease that has no cure. The good news is that there are treatments available to help lessen or alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the condition. Most treatment plans will involve a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Immobile joints can result in stiff joints which makes it important to stay active when you suffer from osteoarthritis. Exercise helps to strengthen the muscles around the joints, improve flexibility, and help circulation. When choosing your exercise or activity routine make sure it includes range of motion activities and physical activities that are less strenuous on the joints. Consider such activity as swimming, biking, walking, and water aerobics.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Additional weight can put excess strain and pressure on your joints causing them to break down more rapidly. This can be especially true of joints that bear the largest portion of your body’s weight including the hips, knees, feet, and back. If you are overweight or obese you should discuss a weight loss plan with your doctor and begin reducing calories and increasing activity.
Keeping your joints flexible can not only help by reducing the breakdown of the cartilage but can reduce stiffness and pain. Consider taking yoga or doing tai chi. Both are great ways to stay in shape and increase your range of motion.
Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications
Most often medications treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis to reduce inflammation and help alleviate the pain from the bones rubbing together. Some of the most common medications prescribed include:
- Pain relievers – These can range from Tylenol up to opioids or fall somewhere in between such as an atypical opioid called tramadol. These medications treat mild and moderate to severe pain. While over the counter opioids and atypical opioids require a prescription.
- NSAIDs – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs will help reduce the swelling and inflammation around the joints. You can find some of these treatments over the counter such as ibuprofen or may be prescribed stronger ones such as naproxen, and celecoxib.
- Corticosteroids – A corticosteroid is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication that is typically injected close to the affected joint in a physician’s’ office.
- Hyaluronic acid – The body naturally produces hyaluronic acid to act as a joint lubricant and shock absorber. This often breaks down in people who have the condition so it can replenish through injections given by a doctor.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
Occupational and physical therapies are often prescribed along with medications to help you maintain mobility and reduce the stiffness and pain that can occur. Your therapist will probably recommend range of motion exercises, ways to use your joints to reduce pain, and hot and cold therapies.
Assistive devices are often recommended when mobility is hindered due to pain, deformities, or stiffness. Some assistive devices often prescribed for the condition of osteoarthritis include:
- Orthotic shoes
- Long-handled horns
- Steering wheel grips
- Jar openers
While most of these items are at a store, certain ones may require special fitting.
Natural and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies including nutritional supplements, acupressure and acupuncture, therapeutic massage, relaxation techniques, and hydrotherapy have all shown to improve the symptoms and conditions associated with osteoarthritis. Health supplements that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates have shown to not only alleviate some of the pain associated with the condition but also slows the break down of cartilage which slows the degenerative progression.
When the damage to the joints becomes severe and it is greatly limiting your mobility, joint replacement or other surgical procedures may be recommended. This usually occurs when the cartilage is gone and the bones begin rubbing together. The most common joints recommended for surgery are knees and hips due to the fact that they support the mass of the body.
A Positive Outlook
Studies have shown that having a positive attitude can provide your immune system with the boost it needs to allow the body to handle the pain. Positive thinking is also beneficial as chronic pain conditions can often lead to frustration and sometimes symptoms of depression.
For a visual explanation on what degenerative arthritis is, check out this video by Manipal Hospitals:
Advanced degenerative arthritis can reduce your mobility and drastically affect your quality of life. The good news is that you can get control of the condition in the early stage to help slow the process and improve the symptoms associated with your condition. By making some lifestyle changes, performing recommended therapy, and continuing to stay in shape you can make the symptoms bearable and improve your quality of life. Take care of your joints with the right supplements and multivitamins.
Are you or your family members experiencing degenerative arthritis? Or are you looking for the causes of osteoarthritis? Share your own natural methods for managing pain in the comments section below!