This week is National Arthritis Week; whilst today is World Arthritis Day; brought to us by @VersusArthritis (formerly Arthritis Research UK) and @EULAR, supported (amongst other) by the @BCA and @ARMA. So this week, let’s take a look at degenerative joint disease (DJD).
AKA Osteoarthritis, Spondylosis, or even “Wear and Tear”.
DJD is a normal part of aging – just like grey hairs; and is not painful in and of itself; but can cause other structures to become symptomatic. Consequently, whilst medical imaging (X-ray, MRI) can confirm that DJD is present or not; the severity of change on the image tends not to be in proportion to the severity of symptoms the patient is experiencing; and therefore imaging is RARELY appropriate or necessary to diagnose or assess DJD.
It is caused by an excess of movement or load – whether briefly in the case of traumatic onset; just a little every day, for decades; or through carrying too much weight every day for several years. DJD symptoms include joint pain with stiffness and increased muscle tension as the body try to stabilise the area; eventually growing new bone to buttress the joint.
Treatment typically involves pain control by medication or other measures; controlled mobilisation of the joint, through exercise and/or manual therapy; and strengthening of the muscles which support the joint, through exercises like pilates or rehab. If you are overweight, weight loss can often help improve DJD symptoms, but is unlikely to be a “golden bullet” unless combined with increased activity and fitness.
NB: There is no way to treat DJD itself, and any treatment plan can only have the aim of relieving symptoms, which can only be temporary (though “temporary” may mean anything from hours to decades). Consequently, we talk in terms of “management” rather than “cure”; and it may be a good idea to consider maintenance based treatment whilst feeling pain free and mobile, to keep you that way.