Degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis are one in the same, characterised by pain in the joints (hips, knees and other joints).
Literally translated as inflammation of the joints, osteoarthritis is part of the family of diseases known as arthropathies which refers to 100 different diseases. Osteoarthritis commonly results in disability as the joint cartilage breaks down causing painful and stiff joints. There has been no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are effective treatment options.
Osteoarthritis often only strikes one joint, usually a joint that bears a lot of stress such as the:
The greatest symptom related to osteoarthritis is pain, and often the pain can be so detrimental that it is crippling and prevents mobility or the use of the joint. It is not uncommon for a patient to experience acute and intense pain for the first year of living with osteoarthritis only for it diminish to reasonable levels – it’s important to seek medical evaluation.
Other symptoms can include:
- Painful use of the joint
- Painful periods after the joint has been used
- Joint discomfort during significant changes in the weather
- Swelling in a joint
- Stiffness of the joint
- Bony lumps in the hand and finger joints
- A decreased amount of joint flexibility
What happens when the joint degenerates?
Healthy cartilage between joints is smooth to allow joints to easily slide while in use. Over time some people lose this smoothness of the cartilage which makes the joints rough and sandpaper-like. This means that the joints can no longer slide gently when moving. This is osteoarthritis. The cause is time and age and the eventual wearing down of the joint’s cartilage, sometimes from an injury, fracture or operation on the joint although hereditary factors also play a part.
Bony growth called osteophytes is the result of the body’s attempt to repair and protect the joint, although some osteophytes add to the problem.
Am I at risk of osteoarthritis?
Risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Gender (as osteoarthritis strikes more females than males)
- Age (as osteoarthritis is typically found in people over 45 years of age)
- Joint injuries (especially those related to sports and obesity)
- Diseases that cause malformations or disfigurement of the bone structure
- Weakened muscle protection and other forms of arthritis
How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?
On top of pain symptoms, a physical examination can be performed to determine the presence of osteoarthritis. In some cases a physician may take a list of physical complaints, a physical examination, blood tests which rule out other varieties of arthritis, X-rays, MRI, and other various imaging techniques to determine the presence of osteoarthritis. Imaging can reveal the cartilage loss and the development of osteophytes which is indicative of osteoarthritis.
Standardised tests such as WOMAC and HOOS are also used to determine the level of pain you are in, which can assist with a diagnosis and help your doctor determine the proper treatment.
Can medication help me?
Many patients take topical pain relievers, some of which are prescription strength, NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) to help with both the pain and the inflammation, as well as other over the counter pain relievers. Corticosteroid injections can often relieve joint pain for a reasonable amount of time, but are not typically used as a regular therapy for more than a period of one or two years as they further accelerate cartilage loss. Low dose antidepressants have been proven to relieve pain without the side effects of narcotics. These medications are prescribed in doses low enough to prevent the side effects of antidepressants while still providing pain relief. There are some anticonvulsants that will provide the same type of pain relief even if the patient has no signs of depression or seizures.
Saying that, any medication taken daily over a long period of time can result in side effects and negatively affect the rest of your body. It is often more beneficial to patients to treat the pain at its source, rather than temporarily treat the pain with medication. With stem cells many patients find they can either reduce their pain medication significantly or stop taking medication.
Does joint replacement work for osteoarthritis?
When the pain is intolerable for more than a year, most physicians recommend replacing the joint. Joint replacement technology has improved dramatically over the past few years and most joint replacements have been conducted with good success. However, these procedures are extremely expensive compared to stem cell therapy, and if your natural joint can be improved then that should be the priority.
Fusing bones, repositioning bones, and scraping out joints are also common surgical procedures used in the treatment of osteoarthritis. These procedures are often done in people under 60 who would otherwise require a joint replacement. Because joint replacements are only able to last between ten and fifteen years, it is not uncommon to try to correct the problem with a variety of surgical procedures first.
How else can I improve my osteoarthritis?
Proper nutrition, the application of heat, therapeutic massage, healthy weight loss, daily exercise, and proper footwear can all have a positive impact on joints that are inflamed from osteoarthritis. Applying cold compresses to inflamed joints can help alleviate the pain without overusing pain medication. Though arthritis of any type can be very painful, sitting still and doing nothing can make the pain of osteoarthritis much worse.
Please note that the results of every procedure will vary from patient to patient. Norwood Day Surgery can neither predict nor guarantee success, please book a consultation to find out if this procedure is right for you.