Overview of Osteoarthritis

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), or Osteoarthritis, affects cartilage in the joints.  Cartilage is tissue that covers the ends of bones, and allows them to glide over each other safely and to absorb shock.  For people with DJD, this cartilage wears away, causing the bones to rub against one another.  It is very painful and causes swelling.

Osteoarthritis is different than Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) because RA is an autoimmune disorder affecting joints bilaterally.  For example, someone with RA might have it in either hands or both knees.  Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, only affects joints that are subjected to stress.  It is commonly found in just one knee, or one hand, but it can be found in both.

Osteoarthritis Stages

The stages of DJD are:

  • Loss of elasticity in cartilage; joint more prone to injury
  • Bone thickens, cysts form under cartilage, growths called osteophytes develop
  • Bone or cartilage fragments float in joint space
  • Synovial lining of the joint becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling, further damaging the cartilage

Osteoarthritis Causes

The cause of Osteoarthritis is not known, although it is believed to be influenced by obesity, age, joint injury, genetic defects, and joint stress from activity.  It occurs mostly in older people, although people with joint injuries may develop DJD sooner.  (NIH)  D Degenerative Joint Disease is rarely seen in people under 40 years of age (MayoClinic).  It is more common in females, although it is not known why.  Excess weight creates stress on the joints, which is why obesity is a risk factor.  Occupation may place an individual at risk, especially if it involves repetitive stress on a joint.

Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, however it is most often found in the knees, spine, hips, and hands.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

There is no cure for Osteoarthritis.  Treatment for this degenerative joint disease includes exercise, rest of the joint, medicine, weight control, and sometimes surgery.  Medicines include Acetaminophen (Tylenol), NSAIDs (ibuprofen, Aleve), strong painkillers, and cortisone shots.

Joint replacement is a last resort, but necessary if joint pain becomes unbearable.


There are currently many topics involving DJD being researched right now.  They include earlier detection, gene isolation, tissue engineering, treatment strategies, medicines, vitamins, estrogen, and DJD in animals.