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Osteoarthritis: Joint Degeneration

Your body has thousands of amazing features, but some of the most amazing to me, are the protective mechanisms located within each of your joints where the bones meet. At this junction, a rubbery substance, called cartilage, lines the ends of each bone. This cartilage surface is five times slicker than ice on ice, helping to decrease wear and tear. In addition, a lubricating substance known as synovial fluid flows within the joint. This oily liquid acts much like motor oil in an engine. Together these features allow for us to be active without damaging our joints. However, sometimes a breakdown in these protective coverings, or osteoarthritis, occurs.

It is estimated that 27 million Americans have some form of osteoarthritis. Until the age of 50, men and women are equally affected. After 50 however, women are affected more than men. New research has led to even more eye opening statistics: 1 in 2 people may develop knee osteoarthritis, and 1 in 4 may develop hip osteoarthritis. These numbers are scary considering a 2012 phone interview of 338,734 people from all across the United States has shown that rates of falls, and injuries from those falls, were significantly higher in individuals with arthritis compared to people without arthritis. In fact, adults with arthritis are 2.5 times more likely to be injured in a fall. Additionally, Dr. Edward Yelin, PhD has published data to demonstrate that in 2003, Nebraska’s total cost for arthritis conditions was $757 million. We all know that those total costs have increased over the past 12 years, but we don’t know to what extent.

Although currently there is actually no known cause of osteoarthritis, there have been several identified risk factors. These include: age (growing older), genetics (family trait of poor cartilage development), previous injury to the joint, occupation (repetitive motions or prolonged kneeling), and obesity (increases stress on the joints). Osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed by a primary care provider, such as those at Tecumseh Family Health, and is often accompanied with an X-Ray to visualize joint space narrowing or additional degenerative changes. Symptoms that accompany osteoarthritis often include: morning joint stiffness that usually resolves within 30 minutes, joint noises (creaking, crunching, or other), enlarged bone growth around the joint, and/or pain with pressing on the joint.

Typically considered the first line in conservative treatment, physical therapy has been proven to help in a wide array of studies. Individuals who participate in a strengthening program have been found to have less pain and a higher quality of life. Often, interventions will target the muscles that cross the affected joint, but also strengthen any other identified weaknesses. Your physical therapist may also include hands-on manual therapy techniques to help decrease your pain and increase mobility. It’s common for range of motion exercises to be included in the treatment plan for osteoarthritis as the disease process sometimes leads to abnormal motions. While these are some of the most common treatments, there are many more that your physical therapist might utilize to increase your chance of success.

Additionally, physical therapy has been proven to help even if you elect to eventually undergo a joint replacement. In fact, a preliminary study, newly posted in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, has shown that 1 or 2 preoperative physical therapy sessions may reduce postoperative care use by as much as 29% for those individuals undergoing hip or knee replacement. It’s widely acknowledged that the better shape you’re in before total joint replacement, the better your results will be.

As always, keep moving!

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