Dealing with Rusty Joints

Rusted padlock on white door

[originally published in KCN, March 1998]

Okay, so “Rusty Joints” may not be the correct scientific verbiage for the condition, however, it does paint a picture.  What I’m referring to is the “Wear and Tear” Arthritis commonly called Osteoarthritis.  If you haven’t heard of  this term, that’s okay,  because there’s a lot more that describe essentially the same thing.  Osteoarthrosis, Degenerative Joint Disease, Degenerative Disc Disease, Degenerative Arthritis, Subluxation Degeneration, and Spondylosis  are several that spring forth in my mind.  But let’s not get hung up on what to call it, instead, let’s focus on  1) what it is,  2) who’s at risk, 3) effective ways to manage it, and  4) why a chiropractor is writing this article.

For sanity sake, I’ll be referring to this condition as Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is the most common form of arthritis.  It occurs equally in both men and women with its earliest symptoms beginning in middle age and potentially progressing with advancing age.  Typical symptoms include deep, aching joint pain with stiffness after prolonged use or inactivity, aching during changes in weather, enlargement of the joint, “grating” of the joint during motion, and limited movement.  Joints that are typically affected include the knee, hip, lower back, neck, thumb, and big toe.

Unfortunately, most, if not all of us, will develop some degree of osteoarthritis in our joints as we age.  And isn’t just limited to humans.   Almost all animals with back bones have been known to develop this condition as well, even nonweight-bearing vertebrates such as whales and dolphins.  One medical book I  referenced when preparing this article stated that  because OA is so widespread in the animal kingdom, it suggests an evolutionary mechanism of repair, rather than a disease per se.  So we’re all doomed…right?  Well, the book did go on to say that the bat and the sloth (vertebrates that hang upside down) aren’t afflicted by it.  But hanging upside down would be a little troublesome for most of us.

So, if  OA is not really a “disease”,   but more of a “repair process”, just what is it that is being repaired?  Well, first of all, unfortunately OA is one of those conditions that we doctors really can’t explain the true cause of.  What we do know is that in OA the cartilage pad of the joint , which normally permits effortless, pain-free movement, begins to break-down.  As the cartilage begins to thin out  and weaken, the joint can become unstable.  The body’s response to this situation is to stabilize it  as effectively as possible.  New bone is laid down in the form of bone spurs to offer reinforcement in the joint and eventually, if severe enough, fuse it.  The cause of this “defective” cartilage has been theorized to stem from many things, including aging, trauma, obesity, metabolic abnormalities, and  more recently, genetic factors.

So what can we do to slow this often inevitable process down?  Well, for one thing we can focus on keeping the cartilage in our joints as healthy as possible.  Interestingly, when scientists wish to reproduce arthritis in experimental animals, the most common procedure is to immobilize the joints.  Our spines and other joints of our body are constantly being bombarded with stresses that can “lock”  them up (eg. poor posture, repetitive motions, automobile accidents, slips and falls, emotional stress, etc…).  Once a joint loses its ability to move correctly, the osteoarthritis potential for that area is greatly accelerated.  Like mineral deposits in a cave, the adaptive changes of OA may take years and years to slowly manifest and begin to produce symptoms.  Restoring the normal movement in a joint can decrease the rate of degeneration or even restore the joint to its normal structure and function.  Chiropractors specialize in detecting and correcting joints in the body that have lost their normal motion [subluxations].

dealing-with-rusty-joints-2By restoring motion back in a joint, the cartilage will be in a better position to remain healthy.  Since the cartilage in joints have relatively little to no direct blood supply, the only way these areas receive nutrients is through movement.  The cartilage sort of acts like a sponge and more-less “sucks” the available nutrients from the surrounding tissues.  Without movement, this process is very ineffective.  The old adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” rings true.

Typically, the common treatment for OA has been to cover-up the painful symptoms using medication.  However, some exciting research surfaced last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study examined patients suffering from osteoarthritis in the knee.  It  found that regular exercise can decrease the pain and increase the mobility in osteoarthritis sufferers.

While maintaining movement in a joint is essential for its health, a  joint will only be as healthy as the nutrients available to it.   Committing to a healthy diet is critical.  There are many nutrients that have been found to be beneficial in the treatment of OA —  for example vitamins C, B complex, and E, as well as the minerals of  magnesium,  boron, selenium, sulfur, and zinc.  Also you may have heard about the beneficial effects of the  supplement  Glucosamine Sulfate.  Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies that is the building block of the proteins that help make up the cartilage in our joints.  Besides supplementing the body with more of this product, its mere presence acts as a stimulant for the cells that naturally produce it.  By helping to normalize the cartilage metabolism, glucosamine sulfate has been shown in studies to help prevent and repair cartilage breakdown.

Osteoarthritis can be a crippling condition.  But it’s also a condition that can be managed and its severity lessened.  Your Doctor of Chiropractic is trained to diagnose osteoarthritis and differentiate it from the variety of other types of arthritis.   By seeking the assistance of a chiropractor,  restoration of movement can specifically be given to the “locked up” or potentially problematic joints in your spine and body.  A chiropractor can offer advice on treatment, home exercise and nutritional factors dealing with osteoarthritis.  Whether you’re at a point where osteoarthritis is afflicting your life, or you want to prevent it as much as possible, your Doctor of Chiropractic is ready and willing to help.

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