Joint Degeneration Is Part Of Life

Some things are unavoidable with age. Wrinkles, gray hair, and reduced energy come to mind. However, most people will also experience some form of joint degeneration. Between the joints is smooth cartilage, which protects the bone at each joint and reduces the shock from everyday movement. Over time, the cartilage can wear away, causing pain, stiffness, and discomfort. Lifestyle changes can slow progression, but minimally invasive surgery (MIS) may eventually be needed to repair or replace the joint.

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Cause and effect

The body breaks down with age, and the cartilage between the joints is no exception. Most people experience this breakdown in the major joints like the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, and ankles. Joint degeneration is often caused by osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but there are other reasons. Past injuries and surgeries, like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, can lead to earlier joint degeneration. People with degenerative joints have limited mobility, pain when performing specific actions, and often report a poor quality of life.

Slowing the inevitable

While age is a factor, genetics, sex, past activity, and weight all play a role in joint health. Even with these barriers, there are ways to slow the inevitable. For instance, managing weight through exercise can help. Lifting weights, especially in older years, can also help prevent joint damage. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet is another good approach. Studies show supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D can help limit joint damage with age. Massage, yoga, and stress reduction can also play a key role in long-term joint health.

When should you consider surgery?

For some people, lifestyle changes and supplements aren’t enough. The damage has already been done, or a previous injury led to unavoidable joint degeneration. There may also be a genetic component if an immediate family member has arthritis. At this point, seeing a specialist can help to discuss the next steps. The specialist will provide pain management techniques and recommend physical therapy (PT), but even these approaches can fail. At this point, surgery can help patients regain a better quality of life.

Repair or replace?

The type of surgery depends on the location of the degenerative cartilage and the degree of damage. Some patients may benefit from smoothing away the cartilage and removing bone spurs, which are additional bone growths. Others will need to replace part or all of the joints. Joint replacement involves removing the cartilage and bone and installing a prosthesis. Most prosthetic joints are made of metal, ceramic, or plastic. An orthopedic surgeon can do any of these procedures via minimally invasive surgery. With MIS, the surgery is shorter, with less pain, smaller scars, and a quicker recovery.

Healthy joints are possible

The goal is to maintain healthy joints with age. Healthy joints mean a more active lifestyle. Poor habits or a previous injury can bring on joint degeneration faster. Using the right diet, exercise, supplements, and therapy can help. Repairing or replacing the joint is another option worth considering. With MIS, more patients accept surgery as there is a lower risk and a higher success rate. Don’t be afraid to take action and enjoy healthy joints during those twilight years.