Diseases & Conditions


OsteoarthritisCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common joint diseases in the world. Also called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, it affects almost 27 million people in America and involves the degeneration of the joints.

Causes of Degenerative Arthritis

It is thought that stress on the joints is the underlying cause of osteoarthritis. This stress can be attributed to many factors including:

  • injury
  • obesity
  • bone misalignment
  • weakness of the muscles around joints
  • Peripheral nerve damage
  • Diabetes
  • Lyme disease
  • Gout
  • Joint injury
  • joint infection
  • ligament deterioration
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Alkaptonuria
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Wilson's Disease
  • Costochondritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Medications for Degenerative Bone Arthritis

The first medication that is recommended is the analgesic acetaminophen. For more serious pain, NSAIDS are an option especially ibuprofen or COX-2 selective inhibitors like Celecoxib. For topical use there is Diclofenac. The opioid analgesics like morphine or Fentanyl may be used occasionally. Injections of the glucocorticoid, hydrocortisone can provide relieve that may last for a couple of weeks or maybe a few months. The topical steroid Capsaicin as well as injections of Hyaluronic Acid have been found to improve pain and mobility quite a bit.

Prevention of Osteoarthritis

There are a few factors for preventing degenerative bone disease. It is important not to gain too much weight. In addition, exercise will keep bones strong and muscles toned. Protect joints by maintaining good posture. Do not take part in repetitive behaviors. Pay attention to the pain and stop when it hurts. Protect all joints during activity to prevent injuries.

Risk Factors for Degenerative Bone Disease

There are several risk factors that predispose the individual to osteoarthritis:

  • Age-this type of disease rarely affects people under 40 years of age.
  • Women are more likely to develop degenerative arthritis than men.
  • Individuals who play sports all their lives and have experienced many joint injuries may be more susceptible to degenerative bone disease.
  • Those carrying excess weight place more stress on the joints such as the knees and hips.
  • Jobs that involve repetitive movements can predispose an individual to osteoarthritis.
  • Underlying diseases such as Paget's disease, septic arthritis or gout may also result in degenerative arthritis.

Symptoms of Degenerative Arthritis

The primary symptom is pain in the joints causing stiffness. It can be a burning or sharp sensation. The joints may crack, called creptus, when manipulated. Muscle spasms can occur with osteoarthritis and the joints can become filled with fluid. Wet, humid or cold weather can cause the pain to increase. In the smaller joints the bones may enlarge forming Heberden's or Bouchard's nodes on the hands and bunions on the feet. These joints can become swollen and very red.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

The primary means of treatment includes a change in lifestyle including exercise and diet as well as analgesic medications. Physical therapy is also prescribed and has been found to have a large positive effect on movement and pain. It has actually been proven to be more effective than taking medications. The final option is surgery by replacing or resurfacing the joint. Homeopathic medications include Vitamins A, E, and C and the herbs, turmeric and ginger. Other treatments include glucosamine and chondroitin and omega 3 fatty acids. There has been no proof these homeopathic solutions really work. Nor has it been proven that acupuncture relieves the arthritis pain.

Types of Osteoarthritis

There are two types of degenerative arthritis:

  • Primary degenerative bone disease has no underlying cause and is most common in elderly individuals. The inflammation and changes in the bones lead to debilitating pain. When an individual ages, the water in the cartilage decreases and this prevents the cartilage from being resilient. The cartilage breaks down and the pieces of cartilage get released into the joint space. Bone growths or spurs can form in response to these pieces of cartilage. Primary osteoarthritis can also be broken down into erosive degenerative bone disease and generalized nodal degenerative arthritis.
  • Secondary Osteoarthritis is the result of an underlying disease like joint injury or diabetes. It does have the same general pathology as primary osteoarthritis.