Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis mostly affecting senior citizens progressively with age though trauma-induced osteoarthritis is also observed in younger people. Osteoarthritis occurs at the joints -- elbows, shoulders, knees and the digits of the hand. A projected 20 million people are in the United States are assumed to have osteoarthritis with about 50% of people over the age of 65 suffering, as evidenced by radiology studies. Osteoarthritis affects different people differently. In some cases, it progresses more rapidly than others. Researchers have not specifically identified the cause-effect circumstances for osteoarthritis; however, besides trauma, diet, weight, and work or activity related stress on the joints (long or short-term) are said to be contributory. (Hosie and Dickson 2000; Arthritic Foundation 2002)
The consequences of osteoarthritis are varied -- physical and psychological (Wildner and Sangha 1999). Besides the financial costs and loss of wages due to disability, osteoarthritis takes its toll. Depression, anxiety, feeling of helplessness, limitations on ability to work -- feelings of inadequacy, and the loss of daily activities and responsibilities with the family have to be included in the ill-effects of osteoarthritis.
The treatment modalities then have to address, besides pain, the psychological ramifications of the disease.
The obvious treatment steps would have to include addressing the issue of constant and acute pain. On occasion surgery may be performed to reposition bones.
These can be achieved through drugs. The disease affects the joints -- therefore, joint care has to be improved through rest and a properly (custom) designed exercise regimen. Stress on joints often exacerbates the effects of the osteoarthritis; hence, an acceptable body weight has to be maintained. Patients have to be convinced to live a healthy lifestyle while also adopting an optimistic attitude.
Osteoarthritis: Cartilage and Bone
Osteoarthritis is the biochemical degeneration of the joints caused by the progressive wearing away of the cartilage in those joints. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. The joints of the bones and the cartilage are housed in a tough membrane sac called the joint capsule. On the inner side of the joint capsule is a membrane called the synovium. This entire cavity is filled with the synovial fluid that keeps the constituents of the capsule lubricated and smooth. In addition, muscles, ligaments, and tendons keep the bones stable and allow the joint to bend and move. Ligaments are tough, cord-like tissues that connect one bone to another. Tendons are tough, fibrous cords that connect muscles to bones. (Hammerman 1989)
There are two types of osteoarthritis which pathologically manifest similarly though for different reasons. The less common type -- secondary osteoarthritis -- occurs from stress on bones of the hand, hips and knees which are typically involved in manual or weight bearing operations. The secondary kind is often seen in younger people. The reasons for occurrence of the more common type -- primary osteoarthritis -- observed in seniors are ambiguous at best. There is no apparent initiation for primary osteoarthritis.
In either of the above two cases, osteoarthritis is characterized by wearing away of the cartilage which, under normal circumstances, helps the bones in the joint glide more easily, enabling movement. As the cartilage wears away, the bones under the cartilage rub together. This absence of the lubrication causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion in the joint. Some researchers believe that over time excess stress on a healthy joint or normal stress on a previously (for known or unknown reasons) disturbed joint might cause osteoarthritis (Radin and Paul 1971). External forces accelerate the breakdown of the chondrocytes (the cells that compose the cartilage). Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. As the cartilage wears away the amount of collagen (which maintains elasticity) also decreases. The elasticity in the joint reduces putting greater stress on the joint eventually leading to mechanical failure -- bending, lifting etc.
The underlying bone is exposed. Microscopic cracks appear on the bones; these cracks expose the inner layers of the bone to contact with the synovial fluid resulting in further bone-degeneration. Also, bone spurs -- small growths called osteophytes -- may grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space. (Howell 1986)
Hands: Osteoarthritis of the fingers is the one type of the disease that seems to be hereditary. It appears in the distal interphalangeal joints, proximal interphalangeal joints, and first carpometacarpal joints (joints of the palm and fingers). More women than men have it, especially after menopause (Hormome Replacement Therapy -- HRT was also designed to address this problem (Intellihealth 2001)). Small, bony knobs called Heberden's nodes appear on the end joints of the fingers. Similar knobs (Bouchard's nodes) can appear on the middle joints of the fingers. Fingers can become enlarged and gnarled, and may ache or be stiff and numb. Researchers believe that the nodes are subsets of primary osteoarthritis. The base of the thumb joint is also commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
Knees: The knees are the body's primary weight-bearing joints. For this reason, they are among the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis. A chondromalacia patella, which most commonly occurs in young adults, is a syndrome of crepitus and pain at the anterior knee associated with cartilaginous changes on the underside of the patella (knee bone). If not treated, osteoarthritis in the knees can lead to disability.
Hips: Osteoarthritis in the hip can cause pain, stiffness, and severe disability. People may feel the pain in their hips, or in their groin, inner thigh, or knees. Walking aids such as canes or walkers can reduce stress on the hip. Osteoarthritis in the hip may limit moving and bending. This can make daily activities such as dressing and foot care a challenge.
Spine: Stiffness and pain in the neck or in the lower back can result from osteoarthritis of the spine. Weakness or numbness of the arms or legs can also result. Some people feel better when they sleep on a firm mattress or sit using back support pillows. Others find help from heat treatment or an exercise program to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. In severe cases, the doctor may suggest surgery to reduce pain and help restore function.
Frequency and Demographics
In the U.S., approximately 80-90% of individuals older than 65 years have evidence of primary osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis typically develops slowly and progresses over several years. Usually, the pain slowly worsens over time, but it may stabilize in some patients. Osteoarthritis of the knee is a leading cause of disability in elderly persons. Osteoarthritis also causes millions of Americans to miss work because of back pain.
Ethnographically, primary osteoarthritis does not discriminate racially. Native Americans however, are more likely to suffer than the general population. An important example is Hong Kong where Caucasians are more likely to exhibit osteoarthritic symptoms than Chinese patients (Hoaglund, Yau et al. 1973). In persons older than 65 years, osteoarthritis is more common in whites than in blacks.
In individuals older than 55 years, the prevalence of osteoarthritis is higher among women than men especially in the distal interphalangeal joints of the fingers. Women also complain about osteoarthritis in the knee joints more frequently than men. Problems in the hips however, have a greater preponderance in men than women, as in osteoarthritis in those below the age of 45. One might attribute the secondary arthritis due to greater stress on the joints brought on by more manual-intensive labor performed by men than women.
Osteoarthritis occurrence appears to increase with patient age, in a nonlinear fashion. The prevalence of the disease increases dramatically after the age of 50 years, likely because of age-related alterations in the joint that decreases the tensile strength of the joint cartilage and diminished nutrient-supply to the cartilage. (Roberts and Baruch 1966)
Signs and Symptoms
Primary osteoarthritis is a common disorder of the elderly, and patients are often asymptomatic. Patients with symptoms usually do not notice them until after they are aged 50 years. They experience stiffness after long periods of inactivity. Deep, achy, joint pain exacerbated by extensive use is the primary symptom. Joint swelling or tenderness in one or more joints is also noticed. Also, reduced range of motion and crepitus are frequently present. After extensive wearing away of the cartilage, patients experience a crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing against bone. Inflammatory changes are typically absent or at least not pronounced: some times the hot, red and tender feeling around a joint might be misdiagnosed or misinterpreted as osteoarthritis -- and is probably rheumatoid arthritis. Joint misalignment may be visible. Heberden nodes and/or Bouchard's nodes, which represent osteophytes in the interphalangeal joints, are characteristic in women but not men. In some cases, pain is not one of the symptoms. (Veys and Verbruggen 1999)
Diagnosis and Radiology
In X-rays and other radiology reports, a chief limitation is that the wearing away of the cartilage is not recorded. Radiology identifies problems with bones and…