Osteoarthritis is the gradual process in which the joint surfaces – the cartilage and the bone itself deteriorate and break down. For this reason it is currently considered a degenerative joint disease.
Although the suffix “-itis” refers to an inflammatory state, this is considered a misnomer. Degenerative joint disease radiographically is not an inflammatory condition. This is the reason “degenerative joint disease” (DJD) is currently being used to describe this condition.
Signs that a joint has degenerated include a rough grinding sound and feel to it on movement (known as crepitus), along with stiffness, pain, and deformity. The stiffness is often worse in the mornings, but then improves through the day if the joint is moved.
There are two main categories of degenerative joint disease: primary and secondary. Primary DJD means that the degeneration has no direct link to an incident of trauma or other disease process. The degeneration has an insidious onset. Secondary degenerative joint disease entails a known cause for the onset of the DJD. This may be the result of trauma or another disease process.
It is speculated that the main cause of primary degenerative joint disease is dysfunction in motion of the joint. This includes both too much and too little movement of the joint.
Too much motion of the joint (aberrant motion) occurs with the ligaments around the joint, including the joint capsule, becoming overstretched. This can result from things such as poor posture or chronic stretching of the joint, such as when someone “pops” their knuckles repetitively.
This results in deterioration of the integrity of the joint as the joint cartilage receives too much wear, quite similar to having a loose wheel on a vehicle. The cartilage slowly begins to roughen causing a grinding sound (crepitus), and decreases the shock absorption of the joint. This, in turn, then leads to greater wear on the joint and increased deterioration.
Too little joint movement is just as bad. The joint needs nutrition to maintain itself. But, since it has no direct blood supply, it depends on the transfer of nutrients across the joint capsule – and this depends on sufficient joint movement to wash it across. Too little nutrition can result in degeneration and thus osteoarthritis.
Because the joint needs a certain amount of regular movement to maintain health nutrition inside the joint capsule, most health professionals try to avoid periods of joint immobilization, eg through traction, unless absolutely critical.
Which leads us the the best practice solution for preventing osteoarthritis and other degenerative joint diseases – regular and proper joint movement, achieved by rapid and effective treatment of injuries followed by regular exercise and stretching routines.
Proper exercise strengthens the muscles that support the joint, and so prevent aberrant motion. Stretching those muscles and, if necessary, getting the joint adjusted by a chiropractor, helps to maintain the motion that allows for proper transfer of nutrients and waste products inside the joint.
Even though all this may not eliminate the risk of osteoarthritis – especially if you have had some significant trauma to the joint – it will certainly help to delay or slow down the degenerative process.