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What is Degenerative Joint Disease

Introduction to Degenerative Joint Disease (aka Osteoarthritis), its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options.
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Degenerative joint disease is the clinical term for a condition known as Osteoarthritis.

According to research by the CDC, arthritis affects as many as 50 million adults, and is the leading cause of disability in the US. Further research by the National Institute of Health concluded that the most common form of arthritis is Degenerative Joint Disease.

Degenerative joint disease can affect any or all of the joints in the body. Osteoarthritis is so common, that research at the American College of Rheumatology found that the lifetime risk of developing knee arthritis alone was 44.7%. This type of joint disease has long become a serious problem in the United States and abroad.

What is Degenerative Joint Disease?

Joints are the tissues that connect bones together and allow them to move. Joints are made up of tissue, and these tissues move as a response to muscle movements.

These tissues undergo a lot of stress over the course of your life. While there is a fluid that prevents joints from experiencing too much friction (known as synovial fluid), every time your joints move they receive a small amount of damage.

Generally the joints regenerate as a response to this damage. But over time these joints can degenerate to the point where they are beyond normal repair. This causes the joints to experience inflammation, and this inflammation is known as degenerative joint disease.

What Causes Degenerative Joint Disease?

Originally it was believed that degenerative joint disease was caused almost exclusively by wear and tear and aging. While both of those factors are certainly involved, it's not entirely clear why some people experience osteoarthritis while others don't.

In addition to standard wear and tear and aging, other potential causes include:

  • Genetics – It's possible that some people are simply more prone to osteoarthritis than others.
  • Gender – Women are more likely to experience degenerative joint disease than men.
  • Damage – Those that have damaged a joint in the past are more likely to experience osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity – Obesity is believed to put constant pressure on joints, which leads to osteoarthritis.
  • Repetitive Use – Those that work at jobs that require repetition and overuse of a single joint may also be more likely to experience degenerative joint disease.

Osteoarthritis may also be caused by a combination of the above factors, or may have a cause that isn't quite clear/known.

What Does Degenerative Joint Disease Feel Like?

Pain is the most common symptom of degenerative joint disease. Pain is caused by the inflammation of the joint, as well as the pressure on the surrounding nerves.

Because joint mobility is important for movement, inflammation may also lead to joint stiffness, which could make it difficult to move the affected joints.

You may also notice joint swelling in the areas with osteoarthritis.

Those with degenerative joint disease may also experience a phenomenon known as "morning stiffness" which lasts about a half an hour. It can be painful, but generally goes away when the joints warm up through movement.

In the early stages of degenerative joint disease, the joints may only be painful at certain times of day, during certain movements, or in certain weather conditions. As the joints continue to degenerate, the pain may become more common and occur at any or all times of day.

Can Degenerative Joint Disease Be Cured?

There is no cure for degenerative joint disease. Without treatment or lifestyle changes, the disorder will get progressively worse as the joints continue to experience damage.

However, while you cannot cure the joint degeneration, you can manage the disorder with lifestyle changes, precautions, and nutrition. Those that have degenerative joint disease run in their family can also prevent the onset of the disorder using the same strategies.

How Can I Manage Degenerative Joint Disease?

Interestingly, some people experience a very mild form of this disorder, and never need any additional treatment or nutrition.

Most people, however, should strongly consider managing the disorder with lifestyle changes and supplements, to ensure that the issue doesn't get worse.

Lifestyle changes include:

Manage Your Weight – Obesity will continue to contribute to degeneration and pressure. Try a healthy weight loss regimen if you believe weight to be influencing your arthritis. 

Exercise – Exercise can cause osteoarthritis flare ups, but it also strengthens the muscles that surround the joints in order to reduce joint pressure.

Walking Sticks – Canes and walking aids may not always be ideal, but keeping the pressure off of the joints (especially during exercises like hiking) is beneficial.

Braces – There are several types of braces on the market that are useful for protecting your joints. Wearing these braces regularly can improve your outlook.

Physical Therapy – There are several physical therapy options that are beneficial for those with degenerative joint disease.

If you currently work at a career that involves repetitive motion on your joints, working with an occupational therapist may be beneficial as well.

Supplements That Reduce the Effects of Degenerative Joint Disease

There are several nutrients and herbs that benefit osteoarthritis. Most are provided in the form of oral supplements.

Generally these supplements are designed to perform at least one of four actions:

  • Improve the joint regeneration process.
  • Nourish the joints to help them remain healthy.
  • Lubricate the joints so that there is less friction.
  • Reduce joint inflammation.

Because the joints degenerate over time, supplements can not only reduce the effects of osteoarthritis – they may also be able to provide nutrients that prevent its onset.

Joints are such an important part of the body that dozens of herbs and minerals have shown promise at supplying the joints with what they need to fight off degenerative joint disease.

However, the most common (and potentially most important) herbs and minerals include:

Natural Cures for Degenerative Joint Disease
Glucosamine Sulfate – Several studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate has the potential to nourish joint cartilage and support the function of joints. It is perhaps the most important supplement to take regularly for degenerative joint disease.
Chondroitin Sulfate – Chondroitin sulfate is best taken with glucosamine. This mineral reduces joint swelling and controls the progression of osteoarthritis, but it is most powerful when used along with a glucosamine supplement.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) – MSM is a compound that is also valuable for degenerative joint disease. MSM's main benefit is as a natural painkiller for the joints, although it may have other mechanisms of action that slow the disease's progression.
Willow Bark – Willow bark is an anti-inflammatory herb. It doesn't necessarily slow the progression of the disease per se, but it does reduce inflammation in a way that should reduce pressure on your joints and the pain you experience.

Proper nutrition is also valuable for relieving joint discomfort. It's important to get a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals in your diet, especially if you are undergoing a weight loss program or exercise program.

Treating the Progression of Osteoarthritis

Modern medicine has yet to develop a solution for degenerative joint disease other than surgery. But proper nutrition, a good exercise program, and reducing pressure on the joints can both slow or even stop the progression of the disease, and possibly reduce symptoms altogether. Degenerative joint disease may be painful, but it is controllable.

Next Article: Knee Swelling


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