Every day we move a countless number of times. We walk, run and jump. We bend down, stretch out our arm to grasp an object, or pick up our grandchildren. Those of us who can do these things without pain are fortunate, as healthy joints are by no means to be taken for granted.
All movement is made possible by our joints. The key to painless movement is the layer of cartilage covering the ends of the bones. The joint cartilage buffers sudden knocks and abrupt movements, and absorbs and dampens shocks and bumps. If it is to perform its function well, the cartilage needs to be soft and supple. To ensure this, our body produces a special ‘lubricant’ called synovial fluid, which protects the cartilage from abrasion.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is an increased degeneration of the joints that starts with damage to the cartilage of the affected joint, limiting its protective function. As the condition worsens, the cartilage may disappear completely. Damaged cartilage can no longer protect the underlying bone from shocks and strain. The bone responds to the increased workload by depositing additional bone tissue, leading to deformed and swollen joints. Did you know that women are more commonly affected by osteoarthritis than men?
How do I recognize osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis may go unnoticed for years and not cause any discomfort. An early warning sign may be apparently unprovoked joint pain following larger strains such as carrying heavy objects. Typical symptoms are pain and stiffness of the joints. Pain on initial movement, i.e. pain that is most intense upon beginning moving a joint, but gets better with continued movement, is also characteristic of osteoarthritis.
Osteaoarthritis is caused by a mismatch between the strain on a joint and its ability to resist this strain, causing the cartilage to degenerate. This process is aggravated by the following factors:
Being overweight: Additional strain is placed on the joints through excess body weight.
Age: Joints are subject to the natural aging process.
One-sided strain: Certain professions involve excessive and monotonous use of individual joints.
Overstraining: May be caused by competitive sports or generally by exercise involving repeated stops and starts.
Lack of exercise: The production of lubricating synovial fluid is inhibited by lack of movement.
Congenital joint deformities: Congenital joint deformities, e.g. bow-leggedness or knock-knees, can lead to uneven joint strain and osteoarthritis.
Joint injuries: Any destabilization of a joint makes it more prone to disease.