Age-related joint changes and osteoarthritis

I visited my grandparents today.  At almost 99 years old, my grandfather knows every stat for every baseball player, does his own banking and can still drive my grandmother crazy.  He remembers the names of my children, which is more than I can do most days, and, when his teeth are in, he is still a handsome old guy.  His biggest complaint, other than my 94 year old grandmother not bringing him his coffee fast enough, is the pain in his knees.  Other than the excruciating pain in his joints, he would be fine.  Twenty years ago, he was a candidate for knee replacement surgery.  His Cardiologist counseled against it because he would have had to temporarily switch the blood thinner that he takes for his pacemaker.  I am sure that his Cardiologist just didn’t think he’d live long enough to make it worthwhile.  Welcome to the 21st century where people are outliving trees and turtles.  Medicine and equipment are keeping hearts pumping but the warranty on joints expires long before the ninth decade of use.

What happens to our joints as we age?

1.  Cartilage serves as a cushion between the bones that make up a joint.  Over time, as the water content in cartilage decreases, the cartilage can deteriorate.  Sit for a while on a couch with crummy cushions and you will know what these bones feel like.

2.  Without adequate cushioning, the bones start to rub together and can cause pain and inflammation.  The inflammation and friction can stimulate abnormal bone growth.  These little bony protuberances are a sign of osteoarthritis on xray.

3.  Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis (there are about 100 different types.)  It is limited to joint pain and inflammation and does not affect any other organs.  The most common joints effected are the hands, feet, spine and weight bearing joints like the knees and hips.

4.  The symptoms of osteoarthritis are commonly described as stiffness and pain that occur later in the day and after repetitive use.  There can be swelling and warmth at the affected joint.  The pain may also occur after long periods of sitting.  One or more joints may be effected.

5.  Risk factors for osteoarthritis include genetics, age, obesity, and repeated trauma to the joint.  You may have read about how much I hate to run.  As much as it pains me to say, runners have not been found to have an increased risk of osteoarthritis in the knees.  Soccer players, on the other hand, have.  At least I have an excuse not to play soccer.  Can I extrapolate that to defend not watching my children play soccer?

The joints in the body are like the hinges on a door.  Eventually, they may rust and creak.  There is no WD40 for the knees, although I am sure scientists are working on it.  We have got to get these centenarians out of the house and back on the golf course.  It may help to save my grandparents marriage.  (How great is the cartoon today?)

Tomorrow, some other common causes of arthritis and joint pain.

 

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