What is Degenerative Joint Disease?

Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as Degenerative joint disease, is a problem that often affects people in their advancing years and can cause pain and discomfort, as well as reduce a person’s mobility.

In this article, we will describe what causes the disease, the possible symptoms and how it may be treated.

Degenerative Joint Disease explained

“What is a degenerative joint disease and how did I get it?”

That’s a common reaction from spinal patients after receiving a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. The degeneration usually results from the normal process of aging, typically beginning in middle age with the breakdown of cartilage, the rubbery tissue that serves as a cushion between bones and around joints. 

Degenerative joint disease is the most common joint disorder and is frequently seen in the joints of the spinal column due to the many stresses and strains put on these joints. 

Occupations that involve physically demanding kneeling or squatting can also predispose one to degenerative joint disease, and injury or disease can also contribute to degenerative changes in the affected area later in life. Excessive weight, lack of exercise, smoking, and a poor diet can also exacerbate the degeneration.

What causes degenerative joint disease?

Degeneration in the spine is characterized by a breakdown of the cushioning spinal discs. This leads to bones rubbing against each other, resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling, the reduced motion of the joint, and other associated symptoms.

What are the symptoms of the degenerative joint disease?

Common symptoms caused by osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) are:

  • Pain – Joints that are affected by osteoarthritis may become painful when a person is active, or immediately afterward. This could include even the most simple of movements.
  • Tender to the touch – The joints may be tender to touch, even under the lightest of pressure on, or around the problem area.
  • Swelling – You may experience inflammation of the soft tissue around the joint which can cause visible swelling.
  • Rigidness – The joints could become stiff, impacting a person’s flexibility and mobility. This is likely to occur first thing in the morning or during a long period of sitting still. 
  • The joint is inflexible – You may notice a significant decline in the flexibility of the joint and you may no longer be able to move it freely and enjoy a full range of motion. 
  • Discomfort – When moving the joint you may experience a sensation similar to grating, this may be combined with unexpected sounds such as cracking, or popping.
  • Bone Spurs – This is when extra parts of the bone form around the affected joint which can feel like hard lumps underneath the skin. These can potentially come into contact with the nerve root, causing pain. 

What are my options to treat degenerative joint disease?

A number of treatment options are available for a degenerative joint disease of the spine, including physical therapy, medications, and injections. 

Although the condition cannot be cured, steps can be taken to stop it from worsening and to reduce the symptoms.

Here is a summary of the treatment options available to degenerative joint disease sufferers:

  • Regular exercise
  • Physical Therapy
  • Medication and painkilling injections
  • A healthy diet to lose weight or prevent further weight gain
  • Suitable footwear
  • Using a brace, or other devices to reduce the strain on your joints
  • Spinal Decompression Surgery

Spinal Decompression Surgery

For patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis not improved by conservative approaches, spinal decompression surgery may provide relief by reducing pressure on pinched nerves resulting from the reduction in cushioning the degenerative joint disease causes. 

Spinal Fusion Surgery

The decompression procedure has historically been performed in tandem with spinal fusion surgery, to stabilize the spine by fusing two vertebrae together at the point where the decompression procedure was performed. 

Is there a better alternative to spinal fusion?

The TOPS™ System provides a clinically proven superior alternative to spinal fusion, enabling patients to maintain the full range of motion of each individual vertebra. You may not be able to stop natural degenerative changes, but a range of effective medical options are available to treat them. A qualified specialist can help you choose the one that’s right for you.

The key benefits of the TOPS System are:

  • More controlled movement compared to spinal fusion
  • A reduction in pain
  • Regain your ability to do regular activities
  • Improve your overall quality of life

Living with degenerative joint disease

As a long-term condition, the degenerative joint disease requires lifestyle changes to help you cope with the symptoms and the impact it may have on the overall quality of your life. This is why it is always important to speak to medical professionals who can offer support and advice to ease the strain of osteoarthritis. 

Preventing degenerative joint disease

Preventing the condition entirely is not possible as it is simply a result of aging, affecting millions of people across the globe. However, it is possible to minimize the risk of osteoarthritis by maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle and creating ‘good habits’. 

Exercise – Regular exercise is a great way to limit the chances of the condition but workouts that put excessive strain on the joints, such as running and weight lifting can have the opposite effect, and in fact accelerate the wearing down of the joints.

Activities like swimming and cycling are great ways to keep in shape while controlling the strain placed on your joints. Two and a half hours of steady exercise each week, including some strength exercises, can build muscle strength and maintain healthy joints.

Work on your posture – Try to correct your posture at all times and avoid bending in an unnatural position for too long to keep your spine in a healthy position. Adjust the height of your chair when working in an office and try to walk around every so often to encourage blood circulation. 

Eat healthily – Carrying extra weight is one of the main reasons a person can suffer from joint-related issues, including osteoarthritis. Eating healthily and trying to lose weight can significantly reduce your chances of developing such issues.