Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common arthritic disease.

In addition to man, nearly all vertebrates suffer from osteoarthritis, including porpoises and whales, which discounts the theory that the disease is caused by walking upright.

Osteoarthritis occurs in the joints of the body when cartilage is damaged or lost and bones begin to undergo abnormal changes.

Joints are designed to provide flexibility, support, stability and protection. These functions, essential for normal or painless movement, are primarily completed by cartilage, a slippery tissue that coats the ends of the bones, and the synovium, a membrane that surrounds the entire joint. The synovium is filled with lubricating fluid or synovial fluid, which supplies nutrients and oxygen to cartilage.

What is Cartilage?

The cartilage itself is composed of water and collagen, which forms a mesh that gives support and flexibility to the joint. This combination of the collagen meshwork and the high water content creates a resilient and slippery pad in the joint, which resists compression between bones during muscle movement.

When the cartilage in a joint deteriorates, osteoarthritis develops. In the early stages of the disease the surface of the cartilage becomes swollen and there is a loss of other tissue parts. Fissures and pits appear in the cartilage and as the disease progresses and more tissue is lost, the cartilage loses elasticity and becomes increasingly prone to damage due to repetitive use and injury.

Eventually, large amounts of cartilage are destroyed, leaving the ends of the bone within the joint unprotected.


Unlike some other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis concentrates in one or more joints where deterioration occurs. Osteoarthritis affects joints differently depending on their location in the body. For instance, while osteoarthritis is commonly found in the joints of the fingers, feet, knees, hips and spine, it is rarely found in joints of the wrist, elbows, shoulders, and jaw.

Osteoarthritis is associated with back pain because it can affect the cartilage in the discs that form cushions between the bones of the spine, the moving joints of the spine itself, or both. In any case, patients can experience pain, muscle spasms, and diminished mobility. In addition, the nerves may become rubbed or pinched, causing tingling or burning. In advanced cases, numbness and muscle weakness occurs.

Osteoarthritis of the spine is most troublesome when it occurs in the lower back where it can affect the hips, legs and feet, or in the neck, where it can cause difficulty in swallowing or a reduced ability to turn the head.

Early Detection is Important

If you think you may have osteoarthritis or have been diagnosed by another professional as having the condition, see your Doctor of Chiropractic for a complete evaluation and diagnostic workup to determine the best sources of treatment and correction that will serve the specifics of your individual needs.

With early detection, appropriate chiropractic care has been shown to slow or stop the early stages of this process. Ask your chiropractic doctor to design a program of preventative care for you.

Who Suffers from Arthritis?

  • Almost 16 million over age 60 are afflicted with osteoarthritis.
  • By the year 2020, it is estimated that 60 million people will be affected by osteoarthritis.
  • Five percent of those who leave the work force do so because of osteoarthritis.
  • Only heart disease has a greater impact.
  • Before age 45, osteoarthritis occurs more frequently in males. After age 55, it develops more often in females.
  • Although up to 85% of people over 65 show some evidence of osteoarthritis on X-ray, only 35% to 50% experience symptoms.

Strategies which help with Osteoarthritis

Weight Management
Overweight osteoarthritis patients can help lessen the shock on their joints by losing weight. Knees, for example, sustain an impact three to five times the body weight when descending stairs. Consequently, a loss of only five pounds can eliminate at least 15 pounds of stressful impact on the joint. The greater the weight loss, the greater the benefit.

Joints require motion to stay healthy. Long periods of inactivity cause joints to stiffen and the adjoining tissue to atrophy. Exercise helps to reduce pain and stiffness, and increases flexibility, muscle strength, endurance, and a sense of well-being. Patients should avoid high-impact sports such as jogging, tennis and racquetball.

Strengthening exercises include isometric exercises (pushing or pulling against static resistance) and stretching exercises to build strength and flexibility without unduly stressing the joint. Cycling and walking are beneficial and swimming or exercising in water is highly recommended.

Occupational Changes
Once osteoarthritis has been diagnosed, patients should reduce the shock to the affected joints. Continually working deteriorating cartilage is likely to speed up degeneration. People in occupations requiring repetitive and stressful movements should explore ways to reduce trauma. Adjusting the work or substituting tasks that produce less stress on joints help reduce shock.

The most common approach to treating arthritis in extremities has been a heating pad, soaking in a hot tub or dropping a hand or fingers into a hot paraffin or wax solution. The chiropractic approach to osteoarthritis, following a detailed history and examination, is to utilize specific chiropractic adjustments designed to improve the motion and flexibility of the joints.

This increased motion can improve the function of the joint and its surrounding soft tissues while decreasing the symptoms of stiffness, grinding noises and pain most commonly associated with the disease.