Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Lesson on Arthritis

Everyone has heard of arthritis, seen ads on TV for arthritis medicine, and has a friend or family member with arthritis.  As a shoulder and elbow surgeon, every day that I work I am going to talk to people who have arthritis.   My partners who do hip, knee, and hand surgery also see arthritis patients on a daily basis.  In this newsletter we'll talk a little bit about the diagnosis, causes, and treatment of arthritis.

What is arthritis? 
Arthritis is the destruction of cartilage in a joint.  Cartilage is the smooth covering of the end of a bone that allows a joint  to move smoothly.  Think of the smooth white covering on the end of a raw chicken leg--that's cartilage.  When the cartilage starts to wear away, that's arthritis.  Once all the cartilage has worn away, that's what people call "bone on bone" arthritis.  Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, but is most common in the knee, hip, and hand.

How do I know if I have arthritis?
We diagnose arthritis with an x-ray in our office.  There are many problems which can cause pain in joints, but arthritis is one of the few that will always show up on x-ray.  For that reason, arthritis is fairly easy to diagnose. 

What causes arthritis?
For most people, it's just a part of getting older.  The cartilage loses the ability to regenerate and keep up, and starts to break down.  Many people have a genetic component as well.  They are predisposed to getting arthritis because their parents had it.  Arthritis is also associated with being overweight.  Weight loss is the single most effective treatment for arthritis of the knee.  Finally, broken bones or injuries around a joint can cause arthritis.  But remember, for most people it just happens for no specific reason.

How is arthritis treated?
Arthritis does not have a cure.  There are really four treatments for arthritis:
1) medicines:   We usually use tylenol or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
2) injections:   Normally either cortisone or lubricating injections like Synvisc
3) physical therapy:   Helps to maintain motion and strength in the affected joint
4) surgery:  replace the damaged joint entirely

What is a joint replacement?
Joint replacements remove the degraded cartilage and replace it with a metal and plastic joint.  Joint replacements are most common in the knee, hip, and shoulder.  Joint replacement is generally a very successful operation, but it is a last resort.  Like any surgery, there are risks to joint replacement.  If someone continues to have pain despite injections, medicines, and therapy, then joint replacement surgery may be an option.

Have more questions?   Please feel free to come in and see us, or visit our website at

No comments:

Post a Comment