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What is Degenerative Joint Disease & What Can You Do About It?

March 9th, 2024 by
Category: Arthritis Dr Ruchi Adams

Close up image of elderly person's hand

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), often referred to as arthritis, involves the progressive deterioration of joints due to aging or external factors, leading to structural changes across the body’s joints. Arthritis encompasses various types, each distinguished by its symptoms and prevalence in specific age groups. The most widely recognized forms include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and Ankylosing Spondylitis. This condition can impact areas such as the spine, and both upper and lower limbs, with the knees, hips, neck, lower back, and hands being the most commonly affected sites observed by healthcare professionals.

Symptoms

Symptoms of arthritis vary, with common indicators including:

  • Inflammation around joints, evident through soreness or redness.
  • Joint stiffness, limiting movement capabilities.
  • Generalized pain in the body or specific areas.
  • Fatigue or a general feeling of unwellness.

In osteoarthritis, individuals may develop bony spurs, suffer from cartilage damage within the joint, and experience ligament deterioration. Those with Rheumatoid Arthritis typically encounter morning stiffness in the joints, symmetrical stiffness on both sides of the body, and joint stiffness that can persist for up to six weeks. For Ankylosing Spondylitis, symptoms include nighttime back pain, a stiff spine, difficulty taking deep breaths, and a tendency to slump forward to alleviate pain.

Causes

Various factors can increase the risk of developing arthritis, including:

  • Chronic repetitive movements, which can strain joints over time.
  • Increased weight-bearing, placing extra stress on joints.
  • A history of spinal injury, which may predispose joints to degeneration.
  • Prolonged periods of sitting, which can affect joint health and mobility.
  • Infections that can trigger or exacerbate joint inflammation.
  • Muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition leading to progressive muscle weakness and degeneration.
  • Bone disorders, such as osteoporosis, which weakens bones and increases fracture risk, often affecting the elderly.
  • Older age, as the risk of arthritis increases with age due to the cumulative wear and tear on joints.
  • Incomplete formation of the joint, leading to developmental abnormalities that can predispose to arthritis.
  • Hormone disorders that can affect bone density and joint health.

Treatment

To manage arthritic pain, several treatment options are available:

  • Analgesics: These medications are often the first line of treatment for relieving pain and soreness, helping individuals manage discomfort and carry on with their daily activities.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: Administered directly into the affected joint, these injections offer short-term pain relief and reduce inflammation, facilitating movement.
  • Weight Loss: For those experiencing pain and stiffness due to excess weight, shedding pounds can significantly alleviate the strain on joints. A combination of dietary changes and exercise is recommended for effective weight management.
  • Rehabilitation Exercises: Customized exercise programs aim to enhance joint strength, stability, and mobility, reducing pain and stiffness while helping maintain overall fitness and daily function.
  • Viscosupplementation: This involves injecting a gel-like substance into the joint to mimic natural joint fluid, improving cushioning and facilitating smoother movement.
  • Arthroplasty: A surgical option for severe cases, this procedure repairs or replaces damaged joint tissue with artificial components. It’s considered when pain persists despite non-surgical treatments and may involve either partial or complete joint replacement, determined by the extent of damage. A referral to an orthopedic surgeon is necessary to assess the need for arthroplasty and to restore joint function and movement.

Self Care

Self-care is crucial in managing arthritis and preventing its progression. Here are some strategies to help manage symptoms:

Stay Active: While the idea of exercise might seem daunting due to pain, it’s crucial for maintaining joint stability and function. Regular, gentle exercises can strengthen the muscles around the joints, supporting them and reducing pain.

Improve Sleep: Good sleep is essential for energy levels and overall well-being. Arthritis pain can disrupt sleep, exacerbating discomfort. Focusing on improving sleep quality can reduce pain severity and enhance daily functioning.

Adjust Your Diet: Cutting back on inflammatory foods like fried items, sweets, and processed snacks, and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce joint swelling. A balanced diet supports healthy weight maintenance, crucial for reducing joint stress.

Pace Yourself: While it’s important to stay active and engaged in managing arthritis, it’s equally vital to rest. Overdoing activities can lead to increased pain and fatigue. Listen to your body and balance activity with rest.

Be Proactive and Organized: Making lifestyle changes can be challenging, but being determined and structured in your approach can significantly impact arthritis management. Small, consistent changes in diet, exercise, and daily routines can help keep symptoms under control and improve quality of life.

Sources

  • https://www.aapmr.org/about-physiatry/conditions-treatments/pain-neuromuscular-medicine-rehabilitation/degenerative-joint-disease
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21649-arthroplasty-joint-replacement
  • https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/physical-therapies/physical-therapy-for-arthritis
  • https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/what-is-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/
  • https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritishttps://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ankylosing-spondylitis
  • https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/rheumatoid-arthritis
  • https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-self-management-what-you-need-to-know

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