Our joints are relatively complex structures that have multiple moving parts. It is only natural that, under certain circumstances, our joints may begin to break down. Degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, may occur in any joint of the body, from the spine to the shoulder to the hands or knees. Regardless of where degenerative joint disease develops, the condition can have a profound effect on mobility and quality of life.
Why do Joints Break Down?
It is believed that the aging process has a lot to do with the onset of degenerative joint disease. This is primarily because many parts of the body change with age. Bones may become weaker, muscle tone decreases, and the skin becomes thin and wrinkled. These changes all relate to biochemical changes. In the joints, cartilage breaks down, which depletes the level of slippery fluid that helps the joints move freely. Without sufficient fluid, the cartilage becomes rough. When the joint moves, this roughness creates friction. Sometimes, friction continually wears away the cartilage until there is none left, and the bones of the joint start to rub against each other. As you can imagine, this can cause pain.
Symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease
Degenerative joint disease is not like an injury to a joint. The symptoms of degeneration typically appear gradually; so gradually that they may be overlooked for years before pain or other symptoms become chronic. Some of the ways we spot degenerative joint disease include:
- Tenderness when the joint is moved or touched.
- Stiffness of the joint after a period of inactivity, such as when you wake up in the morning.
- Limited range of motion. People with joint degeneration in the spine may have a hard time twisting. Joint degeneration it the shoulder may make it difficult to raise an arm overhead.
- A grinding sensation. The roughness of cartilage may be felt or heard as grinding.
Treatment for Degenerative Joint Disease
When joint degeneration is caught early, the primary objective of treatment is usually to manage the limitations that have developed by reducing pain and inflammation. Patients may engage in physical therapy at this point to complement healthy lifestyle choices that support joint health, such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.
Medical treatment for joint degeneration may include cortisone injections. Cortisone is a mild steroid that, when introduced into the joint, provides significant improvement in pain, usually for a period of months. Depending on the nature of the affected joint, surgery may be considered to either repair or replace structure.