What is Degenerative Joint Disease?

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About one in every four U.S. adults has some form of arthritis. Many of these adults have a form of arthritis called degenerative joint disease. 

Degenerative joint disease is a painful condition that progresses over time. But how do you know if you have it? What are the common symptoms, and is there any way to alleviate your arthritis pain? Can you prevent it from happening at all?

We’re here to answer those questions. Read on to learn all about degenerative joint disease. 

What Is Degenerative Joint Disease?

Degenerative joint disease is otherwise known as osteoarthritis. It’s the most common form of arthritis. Some people refer to it as wear-and-tear arthritis because it’s caused by excess wear-and-tear on the joints. 

It’s possible for anyone to experience degenerative joint disease, even if they don’t consider themselves particularly active or hard on their joints. For example, people who type or write for work can still wear down the joints in their hands.

Degenerative joint disease most commonly occurs in older people, but young people can also start showing early symptoms. It’s most common in the hips, spine, hands, and knees but can affect all joints.

Degenerative joint disease happens because of the degeneration of cartilage. Cartilage is what keeps your bones cushioned, and without it, they’ll rub against each other. 

This rubbing will cause pain and inflammation that will get worse over time. It may also cause the formation of bone spurs.

Degenerative joint disease eventually leads to decreased mobility without proper treatment. While it’s not reversible, there are things that a doctor can do to alleviate your symptoms. There are also steps you can take at home. 

Common Signs and Symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease

So how would you know if you have degenerative joint disease?

Symptoms can vary depending on how advanced your degenerative joint disease is and what joints have been affected. That said, there are a few common symptoms and signs of degenerative joint disease that you can look out for. They include:

  • Pain and inflammation in the affected area
  • Pain and inflammation in nearby areas 
  • Pain while moving or touching the joint
  • An unusually warm or hot sensation around the joint
  • Joint weakness
  • Extreme pain the day after performing a vigorous activity

It’s important to note that, at first, symptoms may come and go. This is especially true if you’re proactive when you experience pain. Even resting for a few days may make your pain go away short-term and lead you to believe nothing is wrong. 

If your symptoms worsen or continue for several weeks, you must contact a doctor for further evaluation. 

Treatment Options

So what can be done for degenerative joint disease?

Unfortunately, there’s no actual cure for this painful condition. It’s not reversible, but there are ways to manage it. Management methods will vary depending on how far the disease has progressed and your standard level of pain and discomfort.

Standard treatment methods include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Mobility or assistive devices
  • In rare cases, surgery 

Exercise is often the first recommendation for early-stage degenerative joint disease. The doctor may recommend that you try doing light exercises and stretches that won’t put too much pressure on your joints but will alleviate pain. 

If you already exercise, they may recommend changing your routine. For example, you may want to swap running with a joint-friendly alternative, like swimming. 

Over-the-counter medication is helpful in combination with exercise for mild osteoarthritis. Anti-inflammatories are effective. If you need more serious pain medication, speak to your doctor about your options. 

Physical therapy is a good option for people who aren’t sure how best to exercise to protect their joints. A physical therapist will help you create an effective exercise routine and ensure you’re using good form. 

An orthopedic surgeon can replace your problematic joints with prosthetics, but this tends to be the last option considered. We’ll evaluate your condition to see if a hip or knee replacement is necessary.

Is Degenerative Joint Disease Preventable? 

On some level, degenerative joint disease is a somewhat preventable condition. However, with that in mind, there’s always a risk. Even people who are relatively sedentary can develop osteoarthritis. 

Typical recommendations for preventing arthritis include:

  • Exercise (in joint-friendly ways)
  • Stretch
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Be safe while playing sports
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol
  • Go to routine doctor visits
  • Stay at a healthy weight

Again, there’s no one surefire way to prevent degenerative joint disease. However, these methods can minimize your risk. 

How to Minimize Future Damage

So if you already have degenerative joint disease, what can you do to prevent future problems?

First, follow the advice of your doctor or physical therapist. This is the best way to prevent future problems. Then, if you’re concerned, bring your worries up to your doctor.

Even if you’re not seeing a physical therapist, do gentle exercise at home. Pilates, yoga, and swimming are fantastic options for stretching and keeping your body healthy without damaging your joints. 

Do You Have Degenerative Joint Disease?

Degenerative joint disease is a painful form of arthritis, but it is manageable with preventative measures and early treatment. 

If you’ve been experiencing potential symptoms of degenerative joint disease, t might be time to contact an orthopedic professional. An orthopedic surgeon will go over your options with you.

If no other method of pain relief has been effective, you may be the perfect candidate for a knee or hip replacement. Contact us at Greater Phoenix Orthopedics so we can evaluate your case.