The Pathophysiology of Degenerative Joint Disease

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The etiology or cause of degenerative joint diseases is not clear enough to develop a cure or even warrant one common treatment. The pathophysiology of degenerative joint disease is recognizable and often diagnosed without ambiguity. Studies of the pathophysiology of the disease have improved understanding and treatments. Finding the etiology and cure is the next step.

The Pathophysiology

Osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease affects 33 million people in the United States according to an article published in Arthritis Today, March 2009. The majority of people affected are over 65 years of age. Degenerative joint disease appears when an erosion of the cartilage in the joint and eventual bone growth at the joint margins becomes evident. The disease is progressive causing the cartilage to wear down until the joint bones rub against one another. More damage occurs when bone spurs damage surrounding tissue and bone chips float in the fluid surrounding the joint. All of this breakdown of the joint causes pain, stiffness and a loss of mobility. People find they can no longer walk with ease or rise from a chair without pain. Any movement that puts more stress on a joint is met with pain. Sufferers can self medicate with over-the-counter analgesics but should visit a physician for more intense treatment including therapy.

A simple way of describing the pathophysiology of degenerative joint disease according to John Hopkins University is enzymes produced in the joints attack the cartilage. They are called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Overreaction causes the collagen that gives the elasticity to the joint, to degrade. The body tries to fight the destruction by producing more collagen building cells but it is eventually out numbered by the intrusive destructive cells.

Erosion of the cartilage and joint takes place over time making movement very difficult and painful.

The most common joint affected by OA are the knees, mainly because they receive more weight bearing activity and strenuous exercise. Injury to a joint can lead to OA. It can take years for any symptoms to occur. OA can affect all of the joints in the body including the spine. The soft tissue between the vertebrae becomes worn causing friction and producing bone spurs. People endure the pain and problems with mobility until the only answer for relief is joint replacement surgery. For spine sufferers it can mean a bone fusion and for knee sufferers it can mean a total knee joint replacement.


Degenerative joint disease is understood but research continues into the cause. For sufferers it is a disease that will progress in spite of many prevention methods. Finding a solution to treating the disease is an individual option that only a patient and their physician can develop.


Arthritis Today: What is Osteoarthritis?

The John Hopkins Arthritis Center: Pathophysiology of Osteoarthritis