Damage to the joints as a result of aging and overuse is known as osteoarthritis. More than 20 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis. Many people thought that nothing can be done to help restore mobility and relieve pain. But they are wrong. A variety of treatments are available that can, in many cases, improve your quality of life.
Osteoarthritis usually produces symptoms that develop slowly, often over many years. Pain, as a result of inflammation of the joint lining caused by rubbing together of bones, is the main symptom. The pain usually becomes worse by muscle imbalances caused by your body’s attempts to protect the joints.
Often osteoarthritis does not produce any symptoms. We know this because most people over 60 can be shown to have osteoarthritic changes on X-rays, but do not report symptoms.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
There are two main causes: primary and secondary. In the first, which is by far the most common cause, aging is responsible. As you become older, the water content of the cartilage forms your intervertebral discs diminishes, reducing their size and making them rough. At the same time, your facet joint capsule and the supporting ligaments become thicker and tighter. All of this leads to a narrowing of the space between the vertebrae, with those in the neck and lower back being particularly susceptible. What’s more, being overweight adds to the pressure on them. Eventually, bone starts to rub on bone, causing pain, and the intervertebral joints become inflamed. Perhaps in an attempt to protect the joints, bony spurs, called “osteophytes”, often form on their margins, though they do not always cause symptoms. These degenerative changes may affect the nerves in the spine.
In secondary osteoarthritis, the same process takes place, but the cause can be an injury to a joint, a genetic condition that affects cartilage, diabetes, muscles imbalances in your back or pelvis, or any of a number of other conditions that causes joint inflammation.
There is limited amount you can do to prevent osteoarthritis which is caused by years of joints use. And weight-bearing exercise, which makes the condition more likely, is what is recommended as protection against another back problem – osteoporosis. You need to achieve a balance.
Figuring Out What’s Wrong
Doctors can generally make a diagnosis base on your symptoms, your medical history, and an examination on your joints. The doctor may suggest that you have an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and to assess the degree of the problem.
Fixing The Problem
First line of treatment will be anti-inflammatory medicines. If the medications prove ineffective, physiotherapy and injection may be considered.
If all else fails, surgery may be the option, depending on the type of joint involved and its condition.