What Is It?
Osteoarthritis literally means “degenerative joint disease.” It affects more than 16 million Americans and is the most common form of arthritis. After the age of 45 it occurs ten times more commonly in women than men. Onset of this disease is increasingly common with age, and symptoms usually creep up on people slowly.
The most common causes of osteoarthritis are injuries, joint overuse and aging. Scientists also suspect that inherited gene defects may be another factor, and they are currently investigating this link. Studies point to the conclusion that this disease tends to run in families, possibly through a recessive gene.
Osteoarthritis affects the protective material around joints called cartilage, which covers and cushions the ends of the bones. In a healthy person, cartilage is flexible and hardwearing. However, eventually cartilage frays, wears down, and may even disappear completely, leaving behind a joint consisting of bone meeting bone with no padding. Consequently, the other sections of the joint such as the tendons, ligaments and muscles, become weaker until the joint itself becomes deformed.
Currently, the only known methods of prevention are avoiding repetitive joint injury and weight control.
Pain, swelling and stiffness are the most common results of joint deterioration, and they often become worse with time. Morning stiffness and excessive pain in one joint are typical early warning signs. Symptoms may appear in the hands, knees, hips, back and neck. The affected joint’s range of motion will also become increasingly limited.