Saturday, March 21, 2009


What is osteoarthritis?

A technical definition might sound like ' a degenerative joint disease characterized by the loss of articular cartilage, hypertrophy of bone at the joint margins, and changes in the synovial membrane'.

What does this mean to normal people?

Put simply, this is the 'wear and tear' type of arthritis.

Our joints are covered by a smooth layer of cartilage that allows free, painless movement.
This cartilage can be gradually worn away.
Without this protective layer, bone rubs against bone, and pain, swelling and deformity can result.

There are many factors that influence the rate of wear......the risk factors for Osteoarthritis:

(in no particular order)

Previous physical activity
Muscle strength
Previous trauma
Family history

Remember these are just risk factors, some people will tick just about every box above and be arthritis free. Your may be 35 years old, a healthy weight, eat well and still have the knees of a 90 year old.

I always remind people that you don't expect a car to run for 40 years with out going through a set of tires or suspension (the cars weight bearing surfaces). If we walk the recommended 10,000 steps a day, that still works out as 1.8 million steps per leg per year. This is surely going to result in a bit of 'wear and tear'

Somethings gotta give.

It is also probably important to distinguish at this stage between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic inflammatory condition.

(Systemic means its affects are felt throughout the body, unlike osteoarthritis that is felt at the worn joints only)

It is an autoimmune disorder where the body 'attacks' itself and is more common in women than men. Some treatments are shared with osteoarthritis e.g. joint replacement but it is an entirely separate (and very often more disabling) disease.

At this stage, treatments for osteoarthritis tend to be aimed at the symptoms, not reversing the process (but who knows what the future will bring).

This means that what is worn will stay worn, unless it is surgically replaced. But surgery is only one of the many treatments for osteoarthritis.

The major benefits of surgery come with higher risks, so it important to become a bit of an expert yourself before walking down this road.

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