The ins and outs of what osteoarthritis is, how it forms, how to know if you have OA, and how to effectively manage it, explained simply so we can understand...
The first sign of osteoarthritis is the deterioration of healthy cartilage, therefore, understanding cartilage is crucial to understanding osteoarthritis and how you can effectively ease your osteoarthritis pain. Cartilage is a watery substance that is made up of 65%-80% water. The remaining portion is made up of two other important compounds, collagen and proteoglycans.
Collagen gives the cartilage its shock absorption and elasticity, whereas proteoglycans are larger molecules that give cartilage its ability to stretch and then bounce back when we move, or in other words, respond to our movements. With these ingredients, healthy cartilage is able to be formed in a place in each joint called the cartilage matrix. However, as with all things, collagen and proteoglycans grow old.
So what cleans away old collagen and proteoglycans, and what creates new ones?
Chondrocytes are the main players here. They can be viewed as factories within the body that produce new collagen and proteoglycan molecules and also release enzymes that clean out old and deteriorated molecules.
It is important to remember the four elements of healthy cartilage:
1. collagen 2. proteoglycans 3. chondrocytes 4. water
These four elements work together to ensure cartilage is healthy, smooth, and that you can have pain free movement in your joints.
When Cartilage Goes Bad
When cartilage goes bad, or deteriorates, a painful situation can result. Without healthy cartilage to cushion bones, your bones may rub against each other and cause severe pain.
Under an x-ray, this deteriorated cartilage will look ragged and pockmarked. Without the healthy cartilage, the joint will no longer have smooth contours, making pain-free, fluid movement impossible.
As the joint deteriorates, the synovium (joint lining) can become inflamed, causing additional pain. The joint lining tries to fix this problem by producing more synovial fluid, the slick watery substance that lubricates and nourishes the cartilage. However, often the resulting additional synovial fluid will end up in the joint space, causing swelling.
This is the beginning of osteoarthritis. Without effective treatment, eventually, most of your cartilage will deteriorate and a bone on bone situation will occur, causing the debilitating pain associated with osteoarthritis.
So is it possible to slow the destruction of cartilage, to repair some of the lost cartilage, to improve the joint structure, and significantly reduce the pain??? The answer is yes. While the degree of relief does vary for each osteoarthritis sufferer, there are promising means of relieving arthritis pain and otherwise reducing the effects of osteoarthritis. Please read my next article to learn more about glucosamine, which many studies show reduces arthritis pain and slows the progression of osteoarthritis.