Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease manifested by joint cartilage deterioration, and deterioration of the surrounding bone tissue, that leads to stiffness and pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease. A large percent of people over the age of 65 have some symptoms of arthritis. On the other hand, a huge percentage of people over the age of 40 has developed early joint changes visible on scanner, but whose symptoms appear later on. The illness affects both man and women, but have an earlier onset in male population.
What is interesting is that osteoarthritis can appear in all kinds of vertebrates, including fish, amphibians and birds. Animals that life in water, like dolphins and whales can also get osteoarthritis, but this illness ihas not ye been confirmed in anymals hanging upside down, such as bats and slots. Scientists believe that osteoarthritis was formed due to evolution process as a reparing mechanism for cartilage.
It is believed that osteoarthritis is an inevitable part of the aging process, like gray hair and wrinkled skin. Although appearing mostly in older population, arthritis is not only caused by friction and joint-wear over years, but in its development other factors contribute as well. This is why osteoarthritis does not only occur in older, but is very common in younger population as well.
Why does arthritis happen?
In physiological terms, joints are constructed as to have low friction levels, so their destruction is impossible unless a trauma or excessive use are involved. Osteoarthritis probably begins with cartilage cell malfunction, such as collagen (durable, fibrose like protein inside connecting tissue) and proteoglycans (substance that gives elasticity to the joint). Moreover, cartilage may develop in excess, showing cracking patterns on itssurface. Little crevices formed inside the bones below cartilage make the bone less durable. Bone may thicken forming spikes (osteofit) that are visible and palpable. These spikes destruct normal joint function causing pain.
Finally, smooth and slippery cartilage surface becomes coarse and furrowed, so the movements of the joint are not as smooth as before. All joint parts- bone, joint capsule, tendons and cartilage all degrade via different mechanisms, deforming the joint.
Osteoarthritis can be divided into a primary (idiopathic) whose cause is not yet familiar, and secondary that developes due to some other illness, infection, deformity or joint overuse. Some people from certain professions use their joints in excess, like miners and bus drivers and are especially prone to this. On the other hand, long course runner do not have a high risk of this disease.
Excessive body weight can also be a very important factor in disease development, but the proof are inconclusive as yet.
How does osteoarthritis begin?
In time, after 40 years of age, many people show some signs of osteoarthritis on rentgen images, especially on weight bearing joints sucha s hips, but few of them display symptoms. Simptoms develop slowly, showing on only one or few joints at the beginning of the disease. Usually, symptoms are displayed in hand fingers, the base of the feet thumb, hips and knees. The first symptom is pain that gets worse with practice. In some people, joints may stay stiff after a night sleep or rest state, but the stiffness usually passes in the first hour of movement.
As some changes caused by osteoarthritis develop and become more prevalent, the joint loses its mobility and may stay in a blocked, bent position. Cartilage, bone and other tissue growth increases the mass and size of the joint, while coarse cartilage causes creaking and cracking noises during joint movement. The growths on the bone (Heberden nodes) usually appear on the far end joints of the hand fingers.
In some joints like knee, ligaments that surround and hold the joint may stretch making the joint unstable. Touching and moving of that joint may be very painful. In contrast, hip joint becomes stiffened, the range of motion reduces and every movement is very painful.
Osteoarthritis often attacks the spine. Back pain is the most common symptom. Affected spinal vertebra usually induce only middle range pain and stiffness. However, osteoarthritis in the cervical or lumbal vertebrate may cause stiffness, unusual sensations, pain and loss of strength in the hands or legs if the bone thickening presses onto the nerves. Rarely, pressure to the blood vessels that transports nutrients to the back part of the brain and can cause vision problems, dizziness (vertigo), nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, bone thickening may press upon the esophagus, limiting swallowing action.
After symptoms occur, the illness porogresses slowly causing a certain degree of invalidity. Sometimes, further degradation of joint may not occur or the condition resolves on its own.
Appropriate mode of excersise- stretching, posture drills, stop further cartilage changes, enhancing range of mobility and strengthening surrounding muscles that can absorb impact more easily. Practise and resting of painfull joints must be balanced, and it is very possible that joint immobilisation may deteriorate the condition.
The use of soft chairs and car seats may worsen the symptoms: a firm-hold straight chair use is recommended, and firm mattress. For osteoarthritis of the spine sometimes additional excersise may help, while girdles and corsets are needed in case of further symptom deterioration. It is also very important to maintain daily activities, maintain a role in the family and work environments, whenever possible.
Rheumatic diseases are chronic and usually cannot be cured. Via the change of life habits, some of these conditions may be prevented, or their progression stopped. However, when present this condition must be medicaly treated, using medicines and physical therapy and if the symptoms do not improve, a surgery is due. In the core of the best therapy approach lies a healthy life, with good habits, diet and natural therapy based on herbal preparations. This approach is complex, but yields excellent results.
Physical therapy, usually a heat based therapy may be of use. Hot paraffin baths with mineral oil on temperatures between 48 and 52 degrees centigrade are sometimes recommended for hand fingers’ pain soothing. Suspending some parts of the joint may be usefull during painfull use of the joint. Massage from practiced massuses, stretching and diathermic or ultrasound deep heating may help with some cases of neck osteoarthritis.