The most common of all the forms of arthritis is the Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), also called osteoarthritis. It is a chronic disease, causing deterioration of the joint cartilage and formation of reactive new bone at the margins and subchondral areas of the joints. That was the scientific definition but what actually happens in osteoarthritis is actually quite easy to understand. The breakdown of the articular cartilage, which is located at the joint, is a gradual process as a direct result of aging. Overworked joints and joints that were injured earlier in life, like with sports injuries are predisposed to this disease, as are joints with abnormalities. In osteoarthritis, when chondrocytes break down, the cartilage starts to degenerate. Osteophytes, which are bony spurs, form around the joint. At this point, fragments of the bone float around freely in the joint. The inevitable result is stiffness and inflammation.
This condition is a natural part of the body’s normal aging process as a result of wear and tear of the joints. Men are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis than women are up to the age of 45. It is explained that this is because men participate more in strenuous activities than women do in this age group. Between the ages of 45 and 55, men and women are at equal risk of getting this disease but after the age of 55, women are more at risk and age increases, the severity of the disease increases as well. The degree of disability depends on the location of the osteoarthritis. It can range from a minor decrease in mobility of the fingers to severe handicap in persons with hip, knee or spine osteoarthritis. The impact of osteoarthritis is greater in the hip, knee and spine because these are the most weight bearing areas in the body and they occur more commonly in overweight individuals. In fact, the risk of acquiring osteoarthritis is five times greater in an obese person than in an average sized person.
The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is an aching joint pain, especially after exercise which can usually be relieved by rest. Stiffness, generally worse in the morning, is another symptom, as are pain and swelling.
A thorough physical examination establishes characteristic symptoms but X-rays are used to confirm the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. X-rays show some degree of osteoarthritis in one or more of the joints of nine out of ten people over the age of forty.
There is no cure for this chronic disease. The goal of treatment is to relieve pain, maintain mobility (or improve it), and decrease disability. Pain relievers such as aspirin , other nonnarcotic analgesics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the medications generally used. Stabilizing the joints with crutches, braces, canes, or walkers is an effective treatment that reduces stress by supporting the affected area. Heat, massage, rest, are protective techniques preventing undo stress on the joints. There is surgical treatment reserved for those persons with uncontrollable pain and severe disability. Finally, there is still hope for those who fear "going under the knife". A new method claims to cure symptoms of osteoarthritis. Instead of just numbing the pain with drugs or surgery, this new treatment involves a combination of natural supplements. These pills, gucosamine and chondroitin, slow and then eventually eliminate the disease in many patients. These supplements can be obtained without a prescription. Studies proved excellent results, without side effects. It appears there is a bright future for those who suffer from osteoarthritis. It seems as though this most common disease may, in the near future, be finally put to rest.