As we age, the joints in our bodies start to wear out. The joint spaces become narrower due to loss of the cartilage that lines the outside of the bones within the joint. In order to protect the weakening joint, the body starts to lay down new bone. Sounds logical, right? Well unfortunately this new bone is located where bone isn’t supposed to be. Doesn’t sound so good now, does it? This is why your knee may start to look larger as the arthritis sets in. In addition, bone has lots of nerves within it so this new bone starts to cause lots of pain. As the arthritis progresses, the bones in the joint start to wear out just like the cartilage did at first. Pain will likely continue to increase as the severity of the arthritis worsens.
Arthritis can be easily diagnosed with x-ray. X-ray is excellent at evaluating the bones in our bodies. The stages of arthritis detailed above including joint space narrowing (cartilage wearing out), bony osteophytes (new bone), and subcondral cysts (destruction of bone) can all be visualized with x-ray in order to help determine the severity.
Conservative treatment may include physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles that support the joint, ice and medications to reduce pain, and bracing to help stabilize the joint during activity. If these treatments fail to improve the symptoms of arthritis, then steroid injections can be performed for pain relief. Another option is hyaluronic acid (HA). HA is a gel-like substance that simulates normal joint fluid. HA can also be injected into certain joints to help provide additional cushioning and reduce pain. Regenerative Medicine using platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy are newer treatment options that can help heal the arthritis and prevent the need for surgery. If all else fails, surgery may still be required. Knee or hip replacement surgeries are commonly performed for severe, end-stage arthritis that has failed all other treatments.