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What Happens to Your Joints and Cartilage as You Get Older?

the affects of age on your joints and cartilage

Aging is an inevitable part of life that we all have to face. As we age our bodies age with us, but what does this mean for your joints and cartilage? As we get older the effects of walking, exercising and physical activity during day to day life begin to take a toll on the body. Cartilage deteriorates and joints become painful, inflamed and sore typically caused by osteoarthritis (OA).

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among Americans and causes joint degeneration. It is estimated around 27 million Americans over the age of 25 suffer from osteoarthritis according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent the deterioration of your joints and cartilage and for those who have already developed developed osteoarthritis you there are treatment methods to help reduce the pain and symptoms. First, let’s take a closer look at how joints work.

What Makes Up a Joint?

Joints are areas in the body where two points of the skeleton are joined together. All joints have a rubber-like connective tissue called cartilage that acts to cushions the joint and make movements easier and more fluid. Along with cartilage, joints also contain a membrane known as the synovium which produces a lubricating liquid to help joints move more efficiently and keep cartilage healthy.

As the body gets older and your cartilage undergoes more wear and tear, inflammation occurs in the joints. In some cases the cartilage can even degenerate completely, leaving the joint bare. The more joints lose lubrication from deteriorating cartilage and synovium, the more the bones begin to rub against each other causing pain and swelling in the joints and surrounding tissue.

As the bones in the joints continue to rub together, bone spurs or osteophytes begin to form. Bone spurs can severely impede movement and create even more intense pain in the joints. This is a serious issue for people with osteoarthritis because OA causes the cartilage in joints to deteriorate at an even faster rate.

How is Osteoarthritis Caused?

A common myth attributed to osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis is that it only affects elderly people and is brought on by age alone. However, this is simply not true. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. These factors include:

  • Age – Although not the only factor, age is a contributing factor to OA. As we age our bodies do not recover as quickly and we begin to lose strength and muscle tone which leads to more stress on our joints. Studies show the majority of people over 60 demonstrate tell-tale signs of OA in varying degrees of severity.
  • Weight – OA tends to occur most commonly in weight-bearing joints. Being overweight or obese can put you at a much higher risk of developing OA at a younger age. Taking steps to manage your weight now can help you avoid OA in the future.
  • Gender – Research has shown that gender can also determine your risk for OA. Men tend to be at a higher risk of OA than women before age 45. However at age 50 the tables turn and the risk for women increases.
  • Genetics – A family history of osteoarthritis can be an indicator of your risk for this condition. Hereditary traits can leave people with defective cartilage leading to a higher probability of OA even at a younger age.
  • Occupation – We all put stress on our joints over our lives, but certain occupations can really overstress the body. If you have an occupation that requires a lot of lifting or physical activity beware of the risk it poses to your joint health.
  • Injuries – Injuries that compromise the health of a joint are some of the most common contributors to OA. Injuries can occur from sports, car accidents, or even work and may make the affected joint predisposed to osteoarthritis later in life.

How is Osteoarthritis Treated?

Unfortunately for those living with osteoarthritis, there is no known cure for the condition. Your best option is to take preventative measures to avoid OA from developing in your joints. However, if you already have osteoarthritis, there are treatment options available to you. The main goal of treatment is to manage the pain and to prevent further degeneration of the joints.

yoga is used to treat symptoms of osteoarthritis

There is a wide range of treatment methods doctors may use to treat osteoarthritis ranging from pain medication to physical therapy. If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your treatments may include:

In severe cases where typical treatments are not working and osteoarthritis has progressed to an extremely debilitating stage, invasive procedures may be recommended. One option is osteotomy where bone-removal is used to reduce the size of bone spurs and allow the joints to move with greater ease.

The last resort for patients suffering from severe OA is joint replacement surgery. Joint replacement surgery is highly invasive and should only be considered if absolutely necessary.

Osteoarthritis Clinical Trials at Achieve Clinical Research

At our clinic in Birmingham, we are conducting osteoarthritis clinical trials in an effort to better understand this debilitating condition and what causes it. Our professional research team is seeking to advance treatment options and find ways to improve the quality of life for people living with OA.

Physician screens patients for osteoarthritis clinical study in birmingham

If you are interested in learning more about participating in our osteoarthritis clinical trials, we have more resources available here. If you have any questions, give us a call at (205) 757-8208.

Also don’t forget that May is Arthritis Awareness Month. Be sure to check out the Arthritis Foundation website to find out what you can do to celebrate Arthritis Awareness Month this May and help support the millions of people living with arthritis everyday!

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