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Degenerative Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is Degenerative Arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used for a disease that affects the joints. Degenerative arthritis is also known as osteoarthritis and is the most common type of arthritis in the United States.(1) It is sometimes also known as the wear and tear type of arthritis as it is often seen occurring with the natural aging process. It also occurs as a result of injury or overuse of a particular joint.

Causes of Degenerative Arthritis

Degenerative arthritis occurs as the joint cartilage between the bones gets damaged or breaks down. Most often the body activates the repair mechanism as a remedy for damage. Due to this bone spurs or osteophytes grow within the joints at the end of the bone causing friction that may lead to pain on usage.

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The risk factors that can increase the person’s chances of developing osteoarthritis include:(1)

  • People above 50 years of age as it is known to occur more in elderly
  • Females, it occurs more in females and is known to run in families
  • Obesity increases the person’s likelihood of developing osteoarthritis
  • Repetitive use of joints can also lead to the development of osteoarthritis
  • Most of the risk factors such as obesity and joint overuse are modifiable.

Symptoms of Degenerative Arthritis

The symptoms of degenerative arthritis depend on the part of the body the disease develops. It does not occur suddenly and worsens over time.

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A few common symptoms regardless of the part of the body affected are:

  • Dull aching
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Throbbing pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Clicking and popping sound on joint movement
  • Decreased range of motion

The stiffness of the joints is mostly present early in the morning or after the resting period for about 30 minutes before it loosens up again.(2) The pain in joints can either be for a longer period or there can be an intense outburst that is unpredictable.(3)

The parts of the body affected the most by osteoarthritis are:

  • Hips
  • Neck
  • Lower back
  • Finger and thumbs
  • Knees
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As the condition of degenerative arthritis progresses many activities of daily living become difficult to perform.

Diagnosis of Degenerative Arthritis

To confirm the diagnosis of degenerative arthritis the doctor asks numerous questions about the medical history such as pain, history of injury to the affected joints. They may also question the onset and occurrence of pain.

X-ray is done to check for bone spurs or bone damage. Fluid samples are taken from the joints to rule out infection.

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Treatment of Degenerative Arthritis

Treatment of degenerative arthritis depends on the condition of the patient. Some may receive a combination of treatments. The treatment mainly focuses on reducing symptoms, improving joint function, preventing the condition, and maintaining and improving a person’s quality of life.

Medication

Medications are prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation associated with this condition.(4) The medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroid injections, and topical products.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy with increased activity levels can help in degenerative arthritis symptoms. Only low-impact activities should be ensured to prevent further joint damage.
An active lifestyle can also help in:

  • Reducing pain
  • Improving mood
  • Improving function
  • Increasing muscle and bone strength
  • Preventing fall by improving balance
  • Improving quality of life

It is also advised to maintain moderate weight as it can help in relieving the symptoms.

Surgery

Sometimes surgical intervention may be required when other interventions seem ineffective and when damage to the joint is extensive. The surgery is in the form of osteotomy, in which the surgeon removes and reshapes the damaged bone.

A person may also have partial or total osteotomy in which there is a partial or complete removal of the joint.

Nonmedical Options for the Treatment of Degenerative Arthritis

Maintaining moderate weight can be an option as it puts less pressure on the joints. This can be achieved by following a nutritious or well-balanced diet, engaging in regular and low-impact physical activity.

Hot and cold therapies can also help in relieving pain and stiffness in the joint. The hot and cold application should be alternately used on the affected area.

There is no way in which osteoarthritis can be prevented completely. The risk of developing the condition can be minimized by maintaining proper weight and following a proper physical activity regimen. There is no cure for the condition, but, if diagnosed or treated early, the symptom severity can be controlled.

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