Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of chronic disability in the US and affects nearly 27 million Americans, along with affecting millions more around the world. Also known as wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis has no known cure and occurs when protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears down, exposing bone surfaces and leading to joint degradation. It most commonly affects joints in the hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. Some treatments can slow the progression of this disease, along with relieving pain and improving joint function.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in joints deteriorates over time. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that permits nearly frictionless joint motion. In osteoarthritis, the slick surface of the cartilage becomes rough. Eventually, if cartilage wears down completely, bone begins to rub on bone, causing stiffness, pain and a limited range of motion. There are certain natural health and joint pain supplements you can take that may help everyday joint aches and pains.Signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain during or after movement, joint tenderness, joint stiffness when you wake up in the morning or after a period of inactivity, loss of flexibility and full range of motion, grating sensation and the formation of bone spurs around the affected joint. If joint pain or stiffness lasts for more than a few weeks, it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor or health caregiver.
Joints in young and healthy people are full of a viscous fluid similar in consistency to raw egg white, known as synovial fluid - which cushions joints by providing elastic shock absorbing properties. Synovial fluid also carries nutrients to cartilage and removes waste from the joint area. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is one of the main components of synovial fluid, mainly responsible for its resilience and shock absorbing properties. With age, the body makes less HA and synovial fluid becomes less viscous, which is why joints become stiff with age. Many people choose to take vitamins such as the Alleviate supplement from the Institute of Vibrant Living which contains white willow bark and boswellia to help everyday joint aches and pains.
Growing scientific evidence suggests that the nervous system may play a major role in arthritis and also support the idea that reducing elevated levels of nerve growth factor (NGF) - a protein that promotes the growth and survival of nerves, but also causes pain - may become an important strategy for treating arthritis pain in future. A recent study at McGill University investigated changes in nerves and tissues around arthritic joints in rats and found that following the onset of arthritis, however, so-called "'sympathetic' nerve fibers began to sprout into the inflamed skin over the joint and in the arthritic joint tissues. Levels of NGF were also higher than normal in the inflamed skin of these rats, similar to human studies that have shown increased NGF levels in arthritis patients.
The study researchers showed that blocking the activity of sympathetic nerve fibers reduced pain in these animals, strongly suggesting that there is a neuropathic component to arthritis, and that sympathetic nerve fibers may play a role in increasing the pain. Similarly, they hope that using drugs to prevent the production of elevated levels of NGF may offer relief.
In general, factors that increase risk of osteoarthritis include:
- Old age - risk increases with age, most likely because of HA depletion.
- Gender - for some unknown reason, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
- Birth deformities - some people are born with malformed joints or defective cartilage, which can increase their risk of osteoarthritis.
- Joint injuries - which occur when playing sports or from an accident can increase risk
- Obesity - carrying more body weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and lower back.
- High-risk occupations - placing repetitive stress on a particular joint may eventually lead to osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Other diseases - diabetes, underactive thyroid, gout or Paget's disease of bone can increase risk.
In some people, joint pain and stiffness may become severe enough to make daily tasks difficult so that they are no longer able to move freely or work. In such instances, joint replacement surgery is typically recommended. In recent years, HA has become recognized as a successful therapy for people with joint problems. In fact, clinical studies show that repeated cycles of HA injections improve knee osteoarthritis symptoms and continue to benefit patients for at least a year after every cycle of injections. However, these injections are painful and expensive.