What Is Degenerative Joint Disease?
Degenerative joint disease is also known as osteoarthritis and is the most common form of arthritis, affecting approximately 27 million people in America. Arthritis is the term used to describe inflammation of the joints, while osteoarthritis specifically refers to the wearing down of the cartilage in joints.
Joints in the human body are protected by cartilage, a rubbery cushion that stretches and decreases friction in the joints as they move. Degenerative joint disease causes cartilage to loosen and deteriorate. As this occurs and progresses, tendons and ligaments stretch and bones can rub together in particularly bad cases. This may cause the joints to be swollen, painful and stiff.
The term “articular” means “relating to a joint or the joints”.
Polyarticular joint pain, or polyarthralgia, means pain that involves multiple joints. Polyarticular joint disorders may even affect different joints at different times. When multiple joints in the body are affected, the following distinction can be useful in differentiating among different disorders, particularly arthritides:
- Oligoarticular: Involving less than or equal to 4 joints;
- Polyarticular: Involving more than 4 joints.
The Two Types of Osteoarthritis
There are two types of this disease. The first is primary osteoarthritis, which can take place as part of aging—although it does not always do so for everyone. The other type is secondary osteoarthritis, which occurs as the result of having some other disease.
As we age, our joints suffer “wear and tear”, which is the cause of primary OA. It typically starts showing up in those between the ages of 55 and 60. Theoretically, all of us experience cartilage breakdown as we get older; however, some cases are more severe than others.
Secondary OA occurs as the result of a specific trigger that exacerbates cartilage breakdown. Here are some of the most common causes/triggers for secondary OA:
- Trauma/Injury: Bone fractures increase an individual’s chance of developing OA and can cause the disease to arrive earlier than normal.
- Obesity: According to the Arthritis Foundation, each pound of extra body weight places the equivalent of three pounds of pressure on the knees and six pounds on the hips. Excess weight speeds up the “wear and tear” of joint cartilage.
- Inactivity: This is a chain reaction. Inactivity can cause obesity, which in turn weakens the muscles. Weaker muscles mean poorly aligned joints and an increased risk for OA.
- Genetics: Researchers have determined that OA runs in families, so certain family genes could also place you at risk.
- Inflammation: Diseases that increase inflammation can also affect the cartilage in the body. An example of such a disease is rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of Joint Disease
The usual symptoms of the condition are a continuous, stinging pain in the muscles around the affected area and stiffness in the joints that can hinder the ability to move, since pain increases with pressure.
Articular sources of pain come from within the joint. Periarticular sources of pain come from structures surrounding the joint (eg, tendons, ligaments, bursae, muscles).
Polyarticular pain caused by articular sources may be caused by one ore more of the following:
- Inflammation (such as an infection, crystal-induced arthritis, systemic inflammatory disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and psoriatic arthritis); and/or
- Mechanical or other noninflammatory disorders (such as osteoarthritis, hypermobility syndromes)
The synovium and joint capsule are the major sources of pain within a joint. In fact, the synovial membrane is the main area affected by inflammation (synovitis). Pain that affects multiple joints but does not show evidence of inflammation may be due to increased joint laxity and excessive trauma, such as in benign hypermobility syndrome.
Polyarthritis may involve peripheral joints, axial joints (such as sacroiliac, apophyseal, discovertebral, costovertebral), or both.
Most Commonly Affected Joints
Though degenerative joint disease can affect any joint in the body, the most common affected areas are the weight-bearing joints in the hips, knees, and spine. As the cartilage wears away and the joints lose their flexibility, the stress put upon them by standing or walking is what causes the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
This is a very common disease, believed to be hereditary, causing around 25% of all doctor visits and affecting anyone from age 20 up. In fact, most people over the age of 60 have degenerative joint disease with varying degrees of pain. For some, it can strike so severely that it prohibits normal movement.
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