What is Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints. The primary cause for the occurrence of this kind of arthritis is cartilage. Cartilage is a protein substance that serves as a “cushion” between the bones of the joints. Generally, osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting over 20 million people in the United States alone. Among the males it occurs before the age of 45 usually while in women it occurs after 55 years

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Most of the cases of osteoarthritis have no known cause and are referred to as primary osteoarthritis. When the cause of the osteoarthritis is known, the condition is referred to as secondary osteoarthritis.

What causes osteoarthritis?

This type of arthritis is mostly related to aging. With aging, the water content of the cartilage increases and the protein makeup of cartilage degenerates. Repetitive use of the joints over the years irritates and inflames the cartilage, causing joint pain and swelling. Eventually, cartilage begins to degenerate by flaking or forming tiny crevasses.

In advanced cases however there is a total loss of the cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints. Loss of cartilage cushion causes friction between the bones, leading to pain and limitation of joint mobility.

Inflammation of the cartilage can also stimulate new bone outgrowths (spurs) to form around the joints. Osteoarthritis occasionally can be found in multiple members of the same family, implying a heredity (genetic) basis for this condition.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis generally vary from patient to patient. The most common symptom of osteoarthritis however is pain in the affected joint(s) after repetitive use. Joint pain is usually worse later in the day. There could be

  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Creaking in the affected joints
  • Pain and stiffness of the joints can also occur after long periods of inactivity

In severe osteoarthritis, complete loss of cartilage cushion causes friction between bones, causing pain at rest or pain with limited motion.

Osteoarthritis leads to

Osteoarthritis of the knees is often associated with obesity or a history of repeated injury and/or joint surgery.

  • Progressive cartilage degeneration of the knee joints can lead to deformity and outward curvature of the knees referred to as “bow legged.”
  • In some patients, the pain, limping, and joint dysfunction may not respond to medications or other conservative measures
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine causes pain in the neck or low back. Bony spurs that form along the arthritic spine can irritate spinal nerves, causing severe pain, numbness, and tingling of the affected parts of the body
  • Osteoarthritis causes the formation of hard bony enlargements of the small joints of the fingers.

There is no blood test for the diagnosis of osteoarthritis.

  • Blood tests are performed to exclude diseases that can cause secondary osteoarthritis
  • X-rays of the affected joints could suggest osteoarthritis
  • Simple x-ray testing can be very helpful to exclude other causes of pain in a particular joint as well as assist the decision-making as to when surgical intervention should be considered