Osteoarthritis Explained

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Osteoarthritis explained: how you get it, how it progresses, what you can expect in terms of treatments and preventing further degeneration... it's all here.

Patients usually want their osteoarthritis explained. They have lots of questions about how they got it, if it can be reversed, and how it's going to progress. Many are concerned about their future pain and activity levels.

Let me start with a definition first. "Osteo" means bone, "arth" means joint, and "itis" means inflammation. So at it's core, osteoarthritis is inflammation of the bones and surrounding joints.

Osteoarthritis Explained
Types of Joints in the Body

Degeneration is most often found in the weight bearing joints of the spine, hips, and knees. It's also commonly found in the fingers, and inflammatory versions like gouty arthritis are often seen in the toes.

How the joint degenerates will depend on which type of joint it is, but there are some commonalities, and those are what I'll discuss.

Osteoarthritis Explained
What Causes Degeneration?

There are four things that lead to osteoarthritis:

  • Disease
  • Injury
  • Overuse
  • Improper motion

Disease processes like psoriasis, rheumatism, and gout can all lead to osteoarthritis. Even syphillis can have joint involvement. This is because the blood carries the organism causing the disease into the joints where it wages war on your connective tissues. It's important if you have one of these to make sure you're following treatment recommendations by your doctor. By helping your body heal from the disease process (if possible) or manage it's progression, you can help slow down joint involvement.

Injury causes joint degeneration years after the fact, usually. After an injury, there is often scar tissue and the normal bio-mechanics (body movements) of the joint are disrupted. This leads to increased stresses on the joint which causes it to wear down faster.

Overuse of a joint will also cause faster degeneration, because the joint is exposed to a lot of wear and tear in daily life. Athletes need to take extremely good care of their knees, spines, and shoulders. Chiropractors need to watch their shoulders very carefully (I can't tell you how many doctors I know who've injured their shoulders due to the physical nature of our jobs). Truck drivers need to be aware that the constant jostling of the truck puts compressive forces on their spine. There are more examples, but you get the idea.

Improper Motion in a joint leads to faster degeneration, especially in the spine. This is because of how blood and nutrients are supplied to the joint, and if the joint isn't moving properly, it often isn't getting proper nutrition. In the spine, for example, there is no direct blood supply to the cushioning discs. They absorb nutrients like a dry sponge soaks up water - through a process called "imbibition." If there is excess pressure, either because of a postural distortion (when you see someone whose head is far forward, this is what I'm talking about) or an injury, they will eventually get osteoarthritis because of the increased stresses on their spine.

The last three causes above all lead to degenerative arthritis, and you can read more about it here.

Osteoarthritis Explained
Treatment Options

If your arthritis hasn't progressed too far, osteoarthritis prevention strategies can help you slow down the progression of the disease, which will help you manage it as time goes by.

Depending on the severity of your case, there are various medical and alternative treatments for arthritis. Because I'm a chiropractor I'm going to focus on the alternative ones.

Supplements work by providing you with nutrients you need to decrease inflammation and help your body repair damaged tissues.

Arthritis creams give pain relief by disrupting pain sensations in the body and increasing blood flow to the affected area.

Acupuncture has been shown to be extremely effective at pain relief associated with joint pain and disease.

Chiropractic Care helps restore normal motion to the joints and helps your body heal naturally by restoring nerve flow.

For a detailed article on how chiropractic works, follow this link.

Take a look at these popular pages:

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