Degenerative arthritis is another name for osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis characterized by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of the cartilage found in the joints. There are actually more than a hundred different kinds of arthritis but the most common is degenerative arthritis, affecting more than 20 million of the estimated 70 million arthritic patients. It is said to occur mostly after the age 45 and is more common among women than in men. The disease affects the hands, feet, spine, and the major weight bearing joints of the body: hips and knees.
Medical science has yet to prove the exact cause of degenerative arthritis but all evidences point to aging as a major contributive factor. At the onset of aging, the water content of the cartilage increases, causing its protein make up to degenerate.
Add to that repetitive usage of the joints through the years and the constant movement causes the cartilage to irritate and eventually inflame. This, in turn, causes joint pain and swelling. As the disease progresses, the cartilage eventually begins to erode either by flaking or forming tiny crevasses. Severe cases of degenerative arthritis shows total destruction of the cartilage, thus resulting in the loss of the protective cushioning that the tissue provides.
The constant friction between the bones causes subsequent damage to the joints, leading to pain and limitation of joint mobility. In addition, the inflammation of the cartilage will lead the body to create new bone outgrowths, called spurs. These outgrowths typically form around the joints, causing some deformity.
It has been observed that degenerative arthritis frequently occurs among family members. This implies that degenerative arthritis may also be hereditary or genetic in nature.
Degenerative arthritis specifically affects only the joints, unlike other forms of arthritis which are systemic – meaning, they affect other internal organs, such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus.
The easiest symptom of degenerative arthritis to detect is pain in the joints after repetitive use. Often, the pain in the joints grows worse later in the day. Swelling, warmth, and creaking of the affected joints are other signs to watch out for.
If the patient has been inactive for a long period, stiffness can occur as well as pain. In severe cases, when the cartilage is completely lost, even limited motion can cause extreme bouts of arthritic pain.
The symptoms of degenerative arthritis are varied, depending on the individual patient. Some patients are so hampered by the symptoms that they end up debilitated by the disease. Others, on the other hand, suffer remarkably few symptoms.
In addition, degenerative arthritis symptoms are intermittent. This means that patients suffering from this disease may experience years of pain free intervals before the symptoms set in again.
When degenerative arthritis affects the knees, the condition is often associated with obesity or a history of repeated injury and/or joint surgery. As the cartilage of the knee joints continues to degenerate, this could result in deformity in the form of outward curvature of the knees commonly referred to as “bow legged.” Sometimes, it may even cause limping among patients.
There is no cure for degenerative arthritis, as typical of all forms of arthritis. Loss or damage to the cartilage is irreversible as medical science has yet to find an effective, proven method to grow back cartilage. However, there are many pain relieving drugs to help patients cope with the pain associated with this disorder.