Degenerative Joint Disorder

What is Degenerative Joint Disorder?

Degenerative joint disorder, also known as osteoarthritis, is a type of arthritis that occurs frequently. Typically, it corrodes the cartilage in the hip joints, spine, and knees. In some cases, it presents itself in the finger joints, big toe, and neck. The disorder is associated with stiffness in a joint and a loss of elasticity, which increases the odds of injuries. Often the cartilage deteriorates, decreasing the ability of the joint to act as a cushion against impact. The tendons and ligaments are affected when the cartilage wears away, causing pain. When the degenerative disease worsens, it can result in the bones rubbing against each other.

Age is the number one risk factor for developing the disease. The majority of individuals over the age of 60 have some degree of osteoarthritis, but it varies in severity. Other risk factors include heredity, overuse of the joint, scoliosis, injury, and obesity. Common symptoms include aching in the joint, particularly during movement, joint pain after over- or under-use of the joint, swelling, loss of joint motion, and a crunching sound in the joint.

How Can Degenerative Joint Disorder Cause Back Pain?

Many people with chronic back pain often discover that they have this disease. Back pain can cause deterioration in the cartilage between the joints in the spine, which help support weight and control movement in each vertebrae. This can cause severe pain during movement. The joints become inflamed and friction can cause pain. As the back pain increases, the spine becomes less flexible and its range of motion decreases. The synovial fluid that lubricates the joints also tends to thin, leading to further friction.

Having degenerative disease may cause bone spurs to form on the joints. If the spurs are especially large, they can cause pain or irritate nerves resulting in tingling and numbness. Osteoarthritis in the lower back causes stiffness and pain in the lower spine and sacroiliac joint. It can also affect the neck, or cervical spine, which causes stiffness and pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, head, and arms.

Diagnosing Degenerative Joint Disease

A doctor can diagnose osteoarthritis by taking several factors into account, including the individual's description of the pain, the location of the pain, and a physical exam. X-rays are commonly used for diagnostic purposes and to determine the amount of joint damage. Sometimes blood tests are necessary to rule out other types of arthritis. If fluid has accumulated in the joint, the doctor can take a sample and use a microscope to ensure that this degenerative disease is causing the symptoms.

How is Degenerative Joint Disorder Treated?

Treatment options depend on age, activity level, medical history, overall health, location of the degenerative disease, and the severity. Typically, treatment is a combination of physical therapy, strength training, pharmaceuticals, heat and cold therapy, fluid aspiration, canes or crutches, and weight loss. Medications may include anti-inflammatory drugs, creams, gels, sprays, steroid injections, hyaluronic acid joint injections, narcotic pain killers, and even a type of anti-depressant. It's important to note that none of these medications will stop or slow the progression of joint deterioration. Instead, they're used to manage pain, swelling, and stiffness. If all other options prove ineffective and pain persists, surgery can be helpful to reduce discomfort.

If you are experiencing swelling, localized tenderness when pressing on the spine, aching, a loss of flexibility in the spine, pinching, tingling, or numbness in a nerve or the spinal cord, or a crunching sound, speak with your doctor about degenerative joint disease to see if it could be the cause of your back pain.

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