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The real roots of osteo-arthritis, and how you can effectively treat osteo-arthritis

Although osteo-arthritis generally accompanies aging, osteo-arthritic cartilage is chemically different from normal aged cartilage. Many experts now believe that osteo-arthritis is a disorder that results from a genetic susceptibility coupled with injuries to the joint.

Genetic and Biologic Factors & Osteo-arthritis

Researchers report a higher correlation of osteo-arthritis between parents and children or between siblings than between husbands and wives. Genetic factors are thought to be involved in about half of osteo-arthritis cases in the hands and hips and a somewhat lower percentage of cases in the knee. A number of genes are under investigation that might contribute to an inherited risk.

A 2000 study identified the ank gene, which regulates pyrophosphate, a chemical that inhibits the formation of mineral deposits, and may protect the cartilage in joints. (Pyrophospate is also a substance used in tartar control toothpaste). About 60% of persons with osteo-arthritis have mineral deposits in their cartilage. Researchers in the study suggested that mutations in the ank gene that may result in lower pyrophosphate levels in the joint, leading to accumulation of mineral deposits and arthritis.

The newly detected osteo-protegerin gene is important in regulating bone and cartilage formation. Mutations in this gene may play a in role in osteo-arthritis.

Muscle Weakness

It is commonly thought that osteo-arthritis results in disuse in the muscles of the leg, causing them to weaken and atrophy. Of interest is a study that reverses this thinking. It suggested that weak muscle tissue in the quadriceps is responsible for osteo-arthritis in the first place. (The quadriceps are four muscles that stretch down the thigh and attach to the knee and are responsible for leg extension.) This weakness may be due to an abnormality in the muscles themselves or in the nerves that serve those muscles. In the study, strength tests revealed that people with osteo-arthritis had muscle weakness in the quadriceps even if they had no pain. There was no difference in signs of muscle atrophy (withering) between the legs of osteo-arthritic patients and those of nonarthritic people.

Anatomical Factors & Osteo-arthritis

Some researchers suggest that a number of people have anatomical abnormalities, such as mismatched surfaces on the joints, which could be damaged over time by abnormal stress. Legs of unequal length or skewed feet can cause jerky movement and may induce osteo-arthritis. In a study on hand grip strength, for example, individuals, particularly men, whose grip was very powerful were at increased risk of developing osteo-arthritis in certain hand joints over time.

Injuries & Osteo-arthritis

Injury from different sources can contribute to osteo-arthritis:

Single Injury

Osteo-arthritis sometimes develops after a single traumatic injury to or near a joint. This is referred to as secondary osteo-arthritis.

Repetitive Labor & Osteo-arthritis

Certain occupations that require repeated stressful motions (such as squatting or kneeling with heavy lifting) can also contribute to deterioration of cartilage.

High-Intensity Exercise & Osteo-arthritis

There has been some question about the role of strenuous exercise in osteo-arthritis. Marathon runners, for instance, have a relatively low rate of osteo-arthritis in general. One study that did report a higher rate of osteo-arthritis in marathon runners compared to other athletes associated it with intensity of impact rather than with the distance being run. Other scientists, however, speculate that running enhances cartilage health because the rhythmical compression of cartilage expels wastes and promotes absorption of nutrients. Sports that definitely pose a higher risk for osteo-arthritis are those that require repetitive or direct joint impact (such as football), twisting, or both (baseball, soccer). It should be noted however, that muscle weakness and low lung capacity are associated with a high risk for osteo-arthritis and non-traumatic exercise is strongly recommended for healthy people.

Obesity & Osteo-arthritis

Being overweight exacerbates osteo-arthritis once deterioration begins. One major long-term study suggested there may be a causal relationship between obesity in women and osteo-arthritis of the knees. In men, the association is not as strong.


The pain of osteoarthritis almost always begins gradually, progressing slowly over many years. People under 40 may have the condition with no symptoms at all. Osteoarthritis is commonly identified by the following symptoms:

  • Aching pain in one or more joints, stiffness, and loss of mobility.
  • Inflammation may or may not be present.
  • Stiffness tends to follow periods of inactivity, such as sleep or sitting, and can be eased by stretching and exercise.
  • The pain may behave like a roller coaster, with bad spells followed by periods of relative relief.
  • Pain seems to increase in humid weather.
  • It often worsens after extensive use of the joint and is more likely to occur at night than in the morning. As the disease advances, the pain may occur even when the joint is at rest and can keep a sufferer awake at night.
  • Osteoarthritis in the knee may cause a crackling like noise (called crepitus) when moved.


It would be impossible to discuss in this report all the numerous conditions that have symptoms of joint aches and pains. Something as benign as sleeping on a bad mattress to the serious afflictions associated with cancer can mirror symptoms of osteoarthritis. Other problems that can cause aches and pains in the joints include physical injuries, infections, and poor circulation. A number of rare genetic diseases attack the joints.

Osteoarthritis can generally be distinguished from other joint diseases by considering a number of factors together: osteoarthritis usually occurs in older people and is located in only one or a few joints; the joints are less inflamed than in other arthritic conditions, and progression of pain is almost always gradual.

A few of the most common disorders that can be confused with, or may even accompany, osteoarthritis are worth noting.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis may be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly when osteoarthritis affects multiple joints in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis begins in the synovial membrane rather than the cartilage. It normally occurs earlier in life than osteoarthritis, often striking people in their 30s and 40s. Many joints are affected, and rheumatoid arthritis often occurs symmetrically on both sides of the body. People generally have morning stiffness that lasts for at least an hour. (Stiffness from osteoarthritis usually clears up within half an hour.) X-rays show changes in the bones that differ from those occurring in osteoarthritis. In rheumatoid arthritis, blood tests often show a specific antibody, known as rheumatoid factor, that is not present with osteoarthritis. In another blood test, levels of a factor called erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) are often elevated in rheumatoid arthritis, but they are generally normal in osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis also does not usually show up in the fingertips where osteoarthritis is common.


Chondrocalcinosis is a disease in which certain calcium crystals known as CPPD (calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate) are deposited in the joints. It may affect 25% of the population and can accompany and even exacerbate osteoarthritis. The problem has been called pseudogout or pseudo-osteoarthritis, in the latter case particularly when it affects the knees. A physician can usually differentiate between the two disorders, however, because chondrocalcinosis usually damages other joints (such as wrists, elbows, and shoulders) that are not normally affected by osteoarthritis.

Charcot's Joints

Charcot's joint occurs when an underlying disease, usually diabetes, causes nerve damage in the joint, which leads to swelling, bleeding, increased temperature, and changes in bone. There may be a loss of sensation that leads to an increased risk for injury from overuse.

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