Osteoarthritis disease is considered a disease of older people, although it can occur at any age. Sixteen million Americans have symptoms of this illness, which is also called degenerative joint disease (DJD) .
Another 30 million have no symptoms but have changes due to osteoarthritis detected by x-ray. The incidence of osteoarthritis does increase with age. In fact, 97 percent of those over 60 have some evidence of the illness.
Overall, women are affected twice as often as are men. Many experts think that everyone will develop osteoarthritis eventually if she or he simply lives long enough. Osteoarthritis disease is often called the “wear-and-tear” disease.
It involves the cartilage, the tough gristle at the end of bones which acts as a cushion to enable the joint to operate smoothly. Over the years this cartilage can become soft, frayed, lose its elasticity, and even wear away.
Therefore, the joint cannot operate smoothly and may become painful and stiff. There is usually little or no inflammation, however. The cause of osteoarthritis is not really known. Both heredity and obesity seem to affect its development.
There is also some evidence that a joint which is injured or repeatedly abused is more prone to develop osteoarthritis. However, no one knows why some people have severe osteoarthritis at an early age while others escape relatively unscathed even though there is x ray evidence that they have the disease.
Osteoarthritis can be divided into two types. One type involves the joints of the fingers and toes. These joints become enlarged, and bony growths called Heberden’s and Bouchard’s nodes often develop there. There may be some pain and stiffness, but the major problem is cosmetic (the disfigurement of these joints).
The other type affects the major weight-bearing joints knees and hips as well as the spine. Some experts consider osteoarthritis of the spine to be a separate type. Interestingly, osteoarthritis rarely affects the ankle, which is certainly a weight bearing joint.
Osteoarthritis of the spine seldom causes symptoms unless there is pressure on a nerve in the back. On the other hand, osteoarthritis of the hip or knee often causes pain and stiffness and limits mobility of the affected joint, which may make walking difficult.