Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a form of arthritis characterized by the loss of joint smoothness and range of motion without major joint inflammation. Post-traumatic arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis, but the cause is clearly evident (usually the result of a trauma to the joint sometime in the past).
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 20 million people in the United States. It probably affects almost every person over age 60 to some degree, but symptoms are often mild.
- Joint pain and aching
- Limited range of motion and instability
- Erosion of the joint's cartilage and formation of bone spurs
- Stiffness and roughness on motion
If degenerative joint disease is related to abnormalities of cartilage surrounding joints (articular cartilage), it may involve many of the joints of the body. On the other hand, if the degenerative joint disease is caused by an injury, only one joint may be involved. The hips, knees, spine, and shoulders are most commonly involved. This condition may also affect some finger joints, the joint at the base of the thumb, and the joint at the base of the big toe.
In osteoarthritis, the normally smooth cartilage surface softens and becomes pitted and frayed. As the cartilage breaks down, the joint may lose its normal shape. The bone ends thicken and form bony growths, or spurs, where the ligaments and capsule attach to the bone.
Stiffness and joint deformity usually progress slowly without general body symptoms. By contrast, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually begins earlier, often developing more suddenly. RA usually affects the same joint on both sides of body (e.g. both knees), causing redness, warmth, and swelling of many joints. RA is often accompanied by a general feeling of sickness, fatigue, weight loss, and fever.
In the hip, OA may produce pain around the groin or in the inner thigh. Some people feel referred pain to the buttocks, the knee or along the side of the thigh. Degenerative joint disease of the hip may cause a limp and may limit range of motion, for example making it difficult to spread the legs.
Degenerative joint disease of the knees may produce pain and stiffness of the knee associated with a grating or catching sensation in the joint when it is moved. It may make it difficult to walk up and down stairs and lumps may be noted particularly along the medial (inner) side of the knee. If the pain prevents you from moving or exercising your knee, the large muscles around the knee area will become weaker.
Degenerative joint disease of the fingers may produce bony lumpiness around the joints of the finger and perhaps pain and stiffness of these joints as well. In the fingers, the breakdown of joint tissue in the fingers causes bony growths (spurs) to form in these joints. If spurs occur in the end joints of the fingers, they are called Heberden's nodes. If they occur in the joints in the middle of the fingers they are called Bouchard's nodes.
Degenerative joint disease of the feet most commonly affects the large joint at the base of the big toe. Stiffness, lumpiness and pain may be associated. Wearing tight shoes and high heels can make this pain worse.
Degenerative joint disease of the spine may produce stiffness of the back and at times, symptoms of pressure on the spinal cord and nerves running through the spine. The latter are particularly important to notice and may include numbness or weakness of the arms or legs, difficulty with controlling the bowel or bladder, loss of balance and pain radiating out the arms or down the legs.
"Wear and tear" is a widely accepted explanation of the cause of OA. It should be noted that OA is the result of an interlocking pathophysiologic malfunction of cartilage and bone metabolism. Interpreting "wear and tear" of the joints in OA from a biomechanic perspective allows patients to understand how OA differs from age-associated degeneration and overuse of the joints. There are ways to reduce the OA "wear and tear" effects which include weight control, muscle strengthening exercises, and increased proprioception accuracy (the ability to feel your joint's position in space).
The effects of degenerative joint disease can often be controlled by a few basic measures, such as diet, exercise, medication, and surgery.
If you have OA, your diet should optimize your body weight so that the joints do not bear large loads which would cause them to wear more quickly. Joints in a person with OA should be protected from rough use, particularly those involving sudden impacts. Canes or walkers may help protect the hip and knee and prevent limping. Physical therapy can help maintain joint ranges of motion, strength and stability. Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are also effective in relieving pain.
- Removing joint spurs
- Realigning the joint
- Fusion of the joint
- Joint replacement
In the past several years, these operations have become very effective, and many people have benefited from joint reconstruction or replacement.