Also known as osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease affects millions of people all over the world. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This degenerative joint disease occurs when the cartilage between bones wears over time, leading to bone-on-bone contact inside the joint. For many patients, degenerative joint disease is manageable, but it can be quite painful.
Symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease
When a person’s joints begin to degenerate, there are a few symptoms that develop and slowly become worse over time. These symptoms usually start with a stiffness and aching in the joints. The joints may feel tender and warm to the touch. Pain that is constant or flares only after moving may occur. Another common symptom is a feeling of a scraping or grating in the joints, sometimes accompanied by pain. When the joints are severely damaged, sometimes pieces of bone may chip off and remain in the joint, which is known as “loose bodies”. Many people also feel a loss of flexibility or a loss of range of motion. These symptoms can be alarming to some people, but they tend to develop slowly and over many years. Most people who experience degenerative joint disease are over 50 years of age.
Risk Factors of Osteoarthritis
Common factors that may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis include previous joint injury (usually through strenuous activity or sports), genetics, age, and bone deformity. More women are diagnosed with degenerative joint disease than men. Patients who are overweight are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, partially due to the extra strain placed on the joints. Some people who have spent many years doing certain kinds of jobs can experience degenerative joint disease in certain joints, i.e. a pianist might develop osteoarthritis in their fingers, or a carpenter might develop osteoarthritis in their wrist. Overexertion may lead to a worsening of symptoms.
Many doctors can diagnose degenerative joint disease with a physical exam alone, but there are some tests that can confirm a diagnosis. X-rays of the joint in question can show if narrowing of the joint is present and show that the cartilage has been worn away. MRI and CT scans can show much more detailed images of the joints, so a doctor may order these tests to ensure that a patient is experiencing osteoarthritis. These types of scans can also help to show a clear picture in more complicated cases, so a doctor may be able to better treat the patient. Some blood tests can also help define if the person’s arthritic symptoms are osteoarthritis or another form. If a person is able to get a diagnosis of osteoarthritis early on, it will be easier to treat and can prevent quite a bit of deterioration and pain. Preventing pain is always much easier than pain management, so it is best to do everything possible to avoid osteoarthritis from progressing.
Treatment of Degenerative Joint Disease
Once a diagnosis is made, it is important to note that degenerative joint disease is not curable. However, there are many treatments available to mitigate symptoms and increase a person’s quality of life. One simple treatment that may help with pain and swelling is the use of NSAIDs, or over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. These medicines are very helpful for many patients with arthritic symptoms. There are some things a patient can do for themselves to help with their degenerative joint disease such as losing weight, increasing their physical activity (but avoiding overexertion or hyperextension of the joints), and completing physical therapy exercises.
More Severe Cases
When some of these simple treatments are ineffective, there are some other alternatives. These include steroid injections and lubrication injections that may help prevent swelling and create a better cushion inside the joints to prevent scraping. Supportive devices like crutches, canes, and scooters may be helpful to reduce strain on the joints. Narcotic pain medications may also be prescribed, depending on the patient.
If other treatment methods are unsuccessful, a doctor may recommend surgery. Depending on the affected joint, orthopedic surgery can be a great option to relieve pain and increase a patient’s mobility. One surgery available is joint replacement, which repairs or replaces the damaged surfaces of a joint with synthetic materials. Joint replacements may not last and may need another replacement after several years. There are a few other surgeries available and some experimental options as well that may increase quality of life and help patients with pain management.
See A Doctor
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a consultation with one of our doctors. Degenerative joint disease worsens over time, so obtaining treatment can increase a person’s chances of pain relief and healing.