Cartilage is made up of protein and acts as a cushion, in between the bones at the joints. Degeneration and loss of cartilage at the joints is called “Osteoarthritis” or “Degenerative arthritis.” It happens at the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees. If the cause is unknown, it is called “Primary arthritis”. It can be attributed to aging and heredity. As age increases, the protein content in the cartilage decreases and the water percentage increases. Use of the joints upsets and inflames the cartilage. Joint pain and swelling is experienced. Finally, the cartilage breaks down into flakes. Gradually, the cartilage disappears totally leading to friction between the bones. This causes joint pain and decreases movement. If the cause can be determined, the case is called “Secondary arthritis.” The various causes are obesity, trauma, abnormal joints at birth, diabetes, gout and chronic trauma. Excessive weight is the second leading cause, after aging, for osteoarthritis of the knees. It raises the stress on the cartilage. Repetitive shocks to the joints (eg. Knees of football players) also lead to osteoarthritis. In gout, Uric acid crystals and in pseudogout, Calcium Pyrophosphate crystals lead to deterioration of cartilage. Some have irregular joints from birth which are susceptible to wear and tear and early breakdown of cartilage. Diabetes and hormone disorders also lead to osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis can be detected by an X-ray. Disappearance of the space between bones of a joint and appearance of bone spurs indicate the disease. Arthrocentesis implies analysis of the joint fluid using a sterile needle. It is useful to detect gout and infection. Arthroscopy implies insertion of a viewing tube in the joint space. Irregularities and breakdown of the cartilage is detected and may be repaired by using an arthroscope. A comprehensive study of the location, duration and features of the joint is necessary for diagnosis.
Exercise, when performed aptly, reinforces the muscles around the joints. It enhances joint movement and reduces weight. Application of heat before exercise and of cold packs after exercise helps to assuage inflammation. Swimming, Walking and Stationary cycling are recommended. Other remedies include taking pain killers (like aspirin and Tylenol), using mechanical support devices, surgery and avoiding activities which could stress the joint.