Causes of Degenerative Arthritis
Degenerative arthritis, also referred to as osteoarthritis, is a condition largely caused by aging. As individuals get older, the protein makeup of cartilage decreases and the water content of cartilage increases. The decrease in protein levels paired with years of repetitive use of the joints leads to damaged cartilage, swelling, and pain in the joints. Over time, the cartilage in the joints deteriorate, causing small flakes and crevasses in the cartilage. The primary function of cartilage is to provide a cushion between bones of joints, however, as this deteriorates, friction occurs between the bones. In addition to pain and swelling, this can lead to limited mobility and chronic pain.
There are times where degenerative arthritis has been diagnosed in multiple members of the same family which indicates that there could be genetic reasons behind this condition. On rare occasions, some of these hereditary conditions have been caused by a decreased level or defect of collagen production which is an essential component of cartilage. If degenerative arthritis runs in your family, ask your doctor about any preventative measures that can be taken to maintain healthy joints as you age.
Secondary degenerative arthritis occurs as a result of another condition. Obesity, repeated surgery or trauma to joints, congenital abnormalities, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, hormone disorders, and diabetes can all lead to degenerative arthritis. Aside from aging, obesity has proven to be the greatest risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knees due to the mechanical stress on the cartilage.
Degenerative arthritis is unlike other forms of arthritis in that it does not affect other organs in the body. The pain associated with degenerative arthritis resides in the affected joints. Symptoms of this condition can vary from person to person. Some patients find themselves debilitated by the condition while others experience intermittent pain or very little discomfort at all.
Degenerative arthritis is diagnosed with x-rays. Blood work can not diagnose degenerative arthritis, however it can identify or rule out other diseases that could be causing Osteoarthritis such as diabetes or hormonal imbalances. Doctors may also perform arthrocentesis. This is performed in the office, when a sterile needle is used to draw out joint fluid that is analyzed to rule conditions such as gout or infection which can also cause joint pain.
There are several treatments for degenerative arthritis. If degenerative arthritis presents itself as a secondary condition due to obesity or diabetes, lifestyle changes such as weight management, starting an exercise regimen, and changing eating habits may be recommended.
Medication to relieve pain and minimize inflammation may also be recommended. There are several over-the-counter options available including acetaminophen, iIbuprofen, and aspirin. Stronger medications such as Tramadol would require a prescription. Topical ointments that contain menthol such as Biofreeze may also provide temporary relief.
Corticosteroids have also been proven to provide temporary relief for osteoarthritis. Doctors can prescribe this orally in the form of prednisone or inject cortisone directly into the joint and results may last for up to two months. While this may offer pain relief, this is not recommended as a long-term solution. Hyaluronic acid (HA) may also be offered as an injection treatment. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in joint fluid as a lubricant but breaks down more rapidly in patients with degenerative arthritis. This type of injection may be considered as an alternative to NSAID’s like iIbuprofen.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy can both aid in treating degenerative arthritis. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the affected joints is very important, but minimizing strain on the joints is equally important. A physical therapist can offer exercise plans that increase your range of motion without doing more damage to the body. Occupational therapists may also be able to provide assistance by finding alternative ways to perform everyday tasks that minimize stress on the joints.
There are several alternative therapies that have been proven to provide relief for those looking for treatment that does not include medication. Acupuncture may aid in reducing inflammation and lessen pain. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is often used to treat Osteoarthritis. Electrodes are used to send electrical impulses to nerve pathways to lessen pain.
Surgery may be an option if the methods above do not seem to work, however this is a much more invasive form of treatment. Prior to deciding on undergoing surgery, consider the following…
- Can you live with the pain you are experiencing?
- Have you tried all other avenues of treatment?
- Are you committed to the post-recovery process and physical therapy?
- Are you healthy enough for surgery?
Although degenerative arthritis can be painful, there are endless combinations of therapies available to treat this condition. Whether you are looking for an all natural approach to healing or need more serious medical intervention, you can live a happy, healthy life with degenerative arthritis.