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what is degenerative joint disease (DJD) and top degenerative joint disease treatment options

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint degeneration disease and is estimated to affect 27 million Americans.6

Degenerative Joint Disease

Joint degeneration is a condition that commonly affects people as they age. As we get older, the cartilage in our bodies starts to become brittle and breaks down. Healthy cartilage acts as a protective cushion that absorbs shock and prevents joints and bones from rubbing together. While it may occur over time, the destruction of this cartilage can’t be restored and may eventually cause pain and swelling or loss of mobility in the joints.1,2

Degenerative joint disease definition: A condition that affects joints in the body, most commonly knees, hands, and hips. The joints become inflamed, leading to a breakdown of joint cartilage.1,2

Degenerative joint disease is an umbrella term for chronic conditions that wear down the joints, and includes well-known conditions such as osteoarthritis and degenerative arthritis.6 In this article, we’ll answer the question ‘what is degenerative joint disease?’ in depth. We’ll also discuss degenerative joint disease signs and symptoms to be aware of, treatment options and the top causes that may be leaving you at risk.

What Does DJD Stand for in Medical Terms?

In medical terms, DJD is the abbreviation for degenerative joint disease. A DJD diagnosis can be made by a doctor, followed up with radiography or an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.3

Is Degenerative Joint Disease the Same as Arthritis?

Degenerative Joint Disease is also known as degenerative osteoarthritis, a condition that affects the joints as well as the tissue surrounding these joints. With this type of arthritis, the joints in the knees, hips, hands, and back may be affected.4,5

Degenerative Joint Disease Symptoms

Some of the signs of degenerative joint disease are stiffness and pain in the affected joints. Other symptoms include swelling, inflammation, and tenderness in the area surrounding the joints. People with mild degenerative joint disease may have full mobility, however as the disease progresses, DJD symptoms become more severe and impair movement in the joints.4

Pain is most common with those joints that are weight-bearing, such as the knees and hips. With moderate DJD to severe DJD, some people may experience more pain and stiffness in the morning or when they have been inactive for an extended period of time.6

Degenerative joint disease symptoms for degenerative joint disease knee and degenerative joint disease spine

Degenerative joint disease (DJD) most often affects the knees, hips, hands, spine, neck and shoulders. Identifying DJD symptoms early own may help prevent the onset painful or debilitating symptoms.

Degenerative Joint Disease Knee

The knee is the most commonly affected joint. Degenerative joint disease in knee joints can cause mild to severe pain, which can lead to difficulty walking. The knee joint will feel sore and tender, and motion may be limited. DJD in the knees is most often attributed to obesity and aging.3,7

One in two adults will be affected by symptoms of osteoarthritis, the most common form of knee degeneration, at some point in their life.6

Many people with DJD in one or both of their knees will need to adapt their lifestyle due to pain and discomfort. Using a knee brace for degenerative joint disease can help to keep the knee more stable as well as keep the joint in alignment, which may reduce pain. Although degenerative joint disease of the knee can be very painful and debilitating, surgery and knee replacement is only recommended when other forms of treatment are no longer effective.3

Degenerative Joint Disease Spine

Degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine and degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine can be the cause of pain in the neck and lower back. Degenerative joint disease of the spine can cause severe pain that moves out from the spine, causing a tingling feeling and a sense of numbness. Pain may worsen when sitting, bending, or lifting.11

With degenerative joint disease, lower back pain can be severe. Many people find relief when lying down. As the disease progresses, pain and stiffness will increase. Typical treatment is the use of physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, spinal mobilization or surgery.8,11

Degenerative Joint Disease Neck and Shoulder

Degenerative joint disease in neck joints can occur naturally as the upper area of the spine ages and degenerates. Discs between the vertebra act as shock absorbers, but may shrink or lose their structural integrity over time. This can cause the vertebrae to rub together and lead inflammation, pain and tingling in the neck and shoulders.10

With degenerative joint disease, shoulder and neck pain can be managed with pain medication, physical therapy, heat and cold therapy.10

Degenerative Joint Disease Hip

The hip is the second most commonly affected joint. Hip DJD is often caused by obesity and repetitive heavy lifting. Genetics may also play a role. People with degenerative joint disease in one or both hips will experience stiffness, pain, and discomfort in the hip area, including the buttocks and upper thighs. This stiffness can move down the leg into the knee. For many people, the stiffness causes them the most difficulty when getting out of the bed in the morning.7,9

Degenerative Joint Disease Hands

Degenerative joint disease located in the hands may cause tissue surrounding the knuckle joints to become enlarged. DJD can also cause bone spurs to grow in the affected joints. Degenerative joint disease in the hands may cause aching, stiffness, pain or limit the movement of hands and fingers.9

Degenerative Joint Disease Treatment

While there is no cure for the degeneration of joints or the repair of damaged cartilage, there are various degenerative joint disease treatment options. Pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help manage joint pain. As DJD becomes more advanced, treatment may include using topical capsaicin creams or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen. Joint supplements, such as glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, are also used to manage degenerative joint disease.3,9 As a natural alternative, some patients may find relief using essential oils for arthritis to manage their DJD pain.

Evidence shows that consistent low-impact exercise is important for disease management and does not ‘wear out’ joints with DJD.9

Another way to treat chronic degenerative joint disease is through exercise, such as swimming and walking, which can help to reduce joint disability and manage pain. Exercise is also encouraged to maintain muscle strength and mobility as much as possible. DJD treatment may also include injections of a corticosteroid, which can provide short-term relief from pain. Weight loss may be recommended if the knees and hips are affected.4,9

Some people may find relief from pain by resting the affected joints or reducing activity to a lower intensity. Heat and water therapy may also be used to treat pain and swelling. Treatment of DJD can also include the use of assisted devices, such as a cane and comfortable walking shoes.

When there is severe degenerative joint disease that is causing disability and chronic pain that can’t be managed with medication, a replacement of the joint may be required. This is typically done for knees and hips.3,9

Degenerative Joint Disease Causes

What causes degenerative joint disease? DJD occurs when the protein found in the joint cartilage starts to deteriorate. Cartilage, a substance made of protein, acts as a cushion between the bones so that the joints move easily and don’t rub together. With the loss of cartilage to pad the bones, friction occurs, causing joint pain and swelling.1,2,6

Studies show that most people over the age of 65 will show evidence of having at least one degenerative joint.2

There are several factors that can cause DJD. The most common cause is aging, as the cartilage in the joints starts to break down. As the joint is used repetitively, the cartilage becomes inflamed and irritated.2

The second most common cause of degenerative joint disease in the knees and hips is obesity. Too much body weight puts stress on the joints, causing repeated strain.2,3,10

Does degenerative joint disease spread? – DJD is caused by the wear and tear of joints. While it can’t spread, other joints of the body may start to experience the same breakdown.9

Other causes of degenerative joint disease include knee injuries such as torn ligaments and dislocated joints, which can increase the risk of DJD in later years by as much as four times. As well, there is some evidence that genetics may also play a role in DJD.2

Scientific Research Referenced in this Article

  1. Sprinkle, R. (2010, April 14). Strategies for managing degenerative joint disease. Retrieved November 28, 2017 http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/20100414_osteo/index.html
  2. Chen, D. & Shen, J. (2017) Osteoarthritis: toward a comprehensive understanding of pathological mechanism. Bone Res. 5: 16044. doi: 1038/boneres.2016.44
  3. Hunter, D. & Felson, D.(2006) Osteoarthritis. 332(7542): 639-642. doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7542.639
  4. PubMed Health. (n.d.). Osteoarthritis (OA). PubMed Health Glossary. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024679/
  5. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (2016). Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common but Different Conditions. Osteoporosis and Arthritis. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from – View Reference
  6. Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). What is osteoarthritis? Retrieved November 28, 2017 from – View Reference
  7. Aresti, N. & Kassam, J. (2016) Hip osteoarthritis. BMJ. 2016: 354. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from http://www.bmj.com/content/354/bmj.i3405
  8. UCLS Health. Osteoarthritis of the Spine. UCLA Spine Center. Retrieved on November 25, 2017 from – View Reference
  9. Manek, N. & Lane, N. (2000) Osteoarthritis: Current Concepts in Diagnosis and Management. Am Fam Physician. 15;61(6): 1795-1804. Retrieved on October 17, 2017 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0315/p1795.html
  10. Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Degenerative Disc Disease. Retrieved November 28, 2017 – View Reference