Symptoms and Treatments of Degenerative Joint Disease

back pain

Also known as osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, or DJD, can occur anywhere in the body. It most commonly affects the hips, knees and hands, where it is more often referred to as osteoarthritis. When patients and doctors talk about degenerative joint disease, they are normally talking about the condition affecting the spine and neck. When these areas of the body are affected by DJD it can have a significant effect on the patient’s mobility, as well as causing anything from mild to severe pain.

Degenerative joint disease is largely a natural part of the aging process. This is because our body starts to deteriorate as we get older, including the cartilage that cushions the end of our bones in joints. When this happens, there is less of the slippery substance that enables our joints to move freely, easily and painlessly. The deteriorating cartilage becomes rough, causing friction when we try to move. In cases where the cartilage completely wears away, you may experience bone rubbing against bone, which can be extremely painful.

Although associated with advancing age, some patients develop DJD earlier than anticipated. Other causes that can contribute to early degenerative joint disease include:

  • Carrying excess weight
  • Poor nutrition
  • Excess wear and tear on the joint, usually as a result of a strenuous occupation or regularly participating in high-impact sports
  • Genetic factors

Symptoms of degenerative joint disease

The symptoms of DJD tend to develop slowly over time, meaning that in the early stages, indicators of the condition are easily overlooked or attributed to something else such as an uncomfortable chair or sleeping in an awkward position. As the condition progresses, symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain in your neck or back. This may be temporary and come and go or be a constant discomfort. The amount of pain you are in may also vary.
  • Tenderness of the affected joint.
  • Stiffness. This is usually most obvious when you have been inactive for a long period of time, such as when sleeping.
  • Mobility difficulties. Patients with DJD in their spine may find that they cannot bend or twist as they did before. Those who experience DJD in other joints may not be able to use the affected joint through its usual full range of motion.
  • Bone spurs, which are extra bits of bone that feel like hard lumps, may form around the affected area.
  • Grinding sensation/sound when you try and use the joint. This isn’t always heard in cases where the patient is experiencing DJD in the neck or back.

Treatment for degenerative joint disease

Although degenerative joint disease is virtually unavoidable, there are some treatments that can help you to manage the limitations caused by the condition, such as the pain and mobility problems that you experience.

Firstly, you can help to prevent your symptoms from worsening by ensuring that you remain a healthy weight, you eat right, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and get enough moderate exercise. Fewer high impact sports and switching to a less strenuous job can also help.

Once your symptoms start to develop, you can consider a combination of pain medications and physical therapy to help relieve your discomfort and maintain the best possible mobility in your joints. Hot/cold compresses and plenty of rest will also help reduce the effects of the condition.

Nevertheless, some patients are unable to achieve sufficient relief using conventional methods of treatment and instead turn to surgical procedures which can help them to benefit from improved and longer-lasting respite. These include:

  • Cortisone injections. These can substantially help alleviate pain and mobility problems, but the number of injections you can receive in a year is limited since the medication used can actually worsen joint damage over time.
  • Spinal fusion surgery. This involves fusing sections of vertebrae (spinal bones) together to stop the motion that is causing pain. However, this only works for certain vertebrae as the spine is designed to move, and fusion across multiple levels of vertebrae can further prohibit mobility.
  • Joint replacement. Depending on the location of the affected joint, it may be possible to do a complete joint replacement whereby the damaged surfaces are removed and replaced with plastic and metal parts instead.

If you are suffering from degenerative joint disease, Dr. Rovner will be happy to assess your condition and make a recommendation as to the most suitable treatment for you based on your individual circumstances. Please do not hesitate to contact out offices today for more information or to arrange your appointment.