Degenerative Joint Disease: What It Is and How to Prevent It

Takeaway: Degenerative joint disease can affect any joint you have in your body including your neck, spine, knees, hips, and fingers. There are a variety of causes for degenerative joint disease, but the most common are aging and obesity. Unfortunately, the onset of degenerative joint disease caused by aging is often unavoidable; however, there are several ways that you can treat your condition to make the symptoms less debilitating. Early onset degenerative joint disease, on the other hand, can be avoided with a proper diet and exercise routine.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of getting older is that you may begin to experience the deterioration of your joints. In most cases, this can lead to arthritis, which can cause pain, discomfort, and swelling in your joints. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, otherwise known as degenerative joint disease. But, what is degenerative joint disease, and how can you prevent it from happening to you?

Degenerative Joint Disease ICD 10

The ICD 10 code for degenerative joint disease is M19.90, which classifies it in the same category as arthrosis and arthritis. Clinically, degenerative joint disease is defined as a disease that causes inflammation and pain in the joints.

Cartilage is the main part of your body that is affected by degenerative joint disease. Cartilage is a tough, rubbery substance that’s flexible and softer than bone. The role of cartilage is to protect the ends of your bones that connect at joints and help them to move against each other easily. The issues start when cartilage starts to break down, and your bones suffer as a result.

Degenerative Joint Disease Causes

There are two types of degenerative joint disease: primary osteoarthritis and secondary osteoarthritis. Each type has several different common causes.

Primary Osteoarthritis Causes:

  • Aging: As you age, the amount of water in your cartilage goes down while the amount of protein goes up. As you use your joints repeatedly over time, damage in the cartilage will eventually arise. This leads to joint pain, swelling, and osteoarthritis.
  • Hereditary: Research has shown that osteoarthritis has been found in several members of the same family indicating that there is a hereditary basis for it.

Secondary Osteoarthritis Causes:

  • Obesity: According to research, obesity causes osteoarthritis by putting extra stress on the cartilage in the joints due to your body’s excess weight. Obesity increases the risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knees.
  • Repeated Trauma: This often happens among athletes, like soccer players, that make use of their knees in their sport.
  • Abnormal Joints at Birth: If you’re born with abnormal joints, they may be more vulnerable to wear and tear with regular use throughout your life. This can lead to early cartilage loss and degeneration.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis often lead to joint damage and cartilage degeneration which can become osteoarthritis in the future.
  • Hormone Disturbances: Growth hormone disorders, diabetes, and other hormone disturbances are often associated with degenerative cartilage and secondary osteoarthritis.
  • Crystal Deposits: Cartilage degeneration, which leads to osteoarthritis, can be caused by uric acid crystals in the joints. This is especially prevalent in patients with gout because of the calcium pyrophosphate crystals involved.

Degenerative Joint Disease Symptoms

Degenerative Joint Disease has several stages.

The most common symptoms of degenerative joint disease include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Inflammation

Degenerative joint disease pain tends to advance if gone untreated making the associated pain more intense. After some time, you may even start to notice swelling in the joints and surrounding area. It is always better to recognize the symptoms of degenerative joint disease early on so that you can have a better chance of managing the condition properly.

While degenerative joint disease can occur in any joint in the body, the most commonly affected areas are:

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms in any of the above areas of the body, it’s best to consult with your doctor about whether or not you may be at risk of having a degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis can be a severely debilitating condition, so it is best to catch it early so that you can start the proper treatments.

Degenerative Joint Disease in the Spine

Degenerative joint disease is also common in the spine.

When you have a degenerative joint disease in the spine, it means that the cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back are breaking down. Degenerative joint disease in the neck and spine can often produce spurs which put pressure on the nerves attached to the spinal column causing weakness and pain in your arms and legs.

Older people are most susceptible to osteoarthritis in the spin. However, younger people can develop degenerative joint disease in the neck and spine due to injury or trauma to a joint or a cartilage genetic defect.

Symptoms of degenerative joint disease in the neck and spine vary from person to person depending on the severity of the condition. While some inflicted with the disease experience little interference in their day-to-day lives, others may find the disease debilitating, causing them to be disabled.

Degenerative Joint Disease in the Hip

Some people suffer from degenerative joint disease in the hip.

If you have a degenerative joint disease in the hip, you may experience trouble walking due to either sharp pain, dull aching, or stiff hip joints. When it comes to osteoarthritis in the hips, it can be challenging to diagnose. This is because the pain associated with the degenerative joint disease shows up in several different spots, like the knee, groin, thigh, or buttocks.

While the exact cause of degenerative joint disease in the hip isn’t known, several factors may contribute to it including:

  • Joint injury
  • Increasing in age
  • Being overweight
  • Joints forming improperly
  • Genetic cartilage defects
  • Extra stress on the hip joints

If you feel joint stiffness as you get out of bed or after you sit for a long time, you may be at risk for osteoarthritis in the hips. Additionally, degenerative joint disease can manifest as pain, swelling or tenderness in the hip joint, the feeling of bone rubbing against bone, or the inability to move your hip when performing everyday activities. If you feel any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor.

In extreme cases, you may need surgery in order to treat your hip osteoarthritis. This can include hip resurfacing, where the degenerative hip joint surfaces are surgically removed and replaced with metal and a plastic liner. After this surgery, you can then move onto hip replacement surgery, where the damaged ball joint at the top of the femur is replaced with a metal ball.

Degenerative Joint Disease in the Knee

Degenerative joint disease is common in the knee.

Those with the highest risk of knee osteoarthritis are women, the elderly, overweight individuals, athletes of sports involving the knee, and those with arthritis passed down genetically. Often times, a degenerative joint disease in the knee manifests itself in a few select ways:

  • Swelling and stiffness of the knee
  • Warm feeling in the knee joint
  • Decreased knee mobility
  • Creaking sounds when the knee moves

In order to diagnose degenerative joint disease in the knee, a doctor will perform X-rays and MRI scans to see if there are any bone and cartilage damage. Upon diagnosis, there are several ways to treat osteoarthritis of the knee.

  • Weight Loss: This can significantly decrease any pain you might feel in the knee as a result of degenerative joint disease as the loss of weight reduces the stress on your joints.
  • Exercise: By strengthening the muscles around the knee, your joint can become more stable and experience less pain. Stretching exercises is one way to help your knee joint be mobile and flexible.
  • Knee Brace: There are two types of knee braces that you can use. An unloader brace works by taking weight away from the side of the knee affected by the disease. Support braces, on the other hand, give the entire knee support.
  • Injections: By injecting a powerful anti-inflammatory drug into the knee joint, like corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid, you can lubricate your cartilage and bring down the swelling.
  • Surgery: Often treated as a last resort, surgery is done to fully resurface and replace the knee ball and joint with metal and plastic.

Degenerative Joint Disease in Dogs

Degenerative joint disease also occurs in dogs.

Just like humans, dogs are also susceptible to getting a degenerative joint disease. As our pets get older, their joint tissues also deteriorate and degenerate, leading to arthritis or osteoarthritis. In more severe cases, degenerative joint disease can lead to the deteriorated cartilage splitting off from the bone and becoming loose in the joint. Obese dogs are the most at risk for developing degenerative joint disease because their excess weight puts extra stress on their joints.

In dogs, the signs of degenerative joint disease are as follows:

  • Sleeping more often
  • Walking slower or not as long on walks
  • Don’t like to be touched or brush in specific areas
  • Unusually urinating or defecating in the house
  • Slower to stand up from a lying position
  • Having difficulty jumping into the car
  • Seeming reluctant to go upstairs or jump onto the bed

Unfortunately, most of the damage done to dogs with degenerative joint disease is irreversible. All you can do is try to prevent it by making sure that your dog does not get overweight. Besides that, your dog’s joints will naturally deteriorate over time due to aging.

What to Do for Degenerative Joint Disease

There are two ways to deal with degenerative joint disease. If you don’t have it, take the appropriate steps to try to prevent it. If you already have it, then there are many different types of treatments you can do to manage it and alleviate its symptoms.

Degenerative Joint Disease Prevention:

  • Quit smoking because nicotine and several other toxins found in cigarettes have been found to be damaging to your bone health.
  • Maintain good posture because the additional stress to your spine and joints will eventually contribute to the wear and tear of your cartilage.
  • Exercise often because it’s one of the best ways to prevent and treat degenerative joint disease. This is because you’ll be helping your joints stay limber and strengthening your muscles which support your hips and knees.
  • Maintain a healthy weight because obesity is one of the most significant risk factors when it comes to degenerative joint disease. By avoiding the extra stress on your joints that would happen with any excess weight on your body, you will reduce the unnecessary degeneration of your joints.

Degenerative Joint Disease Treatment:

Eat a nutrient-dense diet

Research has shown that a poor diet can lead to inflammation and an increase in enzymes that can destroy essential proteins like collagen, for maintaining healthy cartilage tissue. Try to focus on adding these foods to your diet:

    • Fresh vegetables
    • Whole pieces of fruit
    • Herbs, spices, and teas
    • Probiotic foods
    • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (fish, eggs, meat)
    • Healthy fats (butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds)
    • Bone Broth

Get joint injections

While there are several joint injections you can get that will temporarily alleviate pain, you can also try for injections with a more permanent solution. These can be an alternative to surgery, and comes in many different variations:

    • Viscosupplementation which is injections of fluid similar to joint fluid.
    • Platelet-rich plasma which is an injection derived from your own blood to gain reparative constituents in your knee.
    • Stem cells are immature cells with the unique ability to transform into bone and cartilage cells.

Control your pain naturally

One of the most challenging things about living with osteoarthritis is having to deal with the pain. However, you don’t have to go straight to medical injections to alleviate the pain. Here are some of the ways that you can naturally control the pain associated with degenerative joint disease:

    • Acupuncture: Research has proven that acupuncture helps to lower symptoms of back and neck pain, muscle aches, joint stiffness, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches.
    • Massage therapy: By improving circulation, bringing blood to sensitive areas, relaxing the mind and lowering stress, a professional massage can help alleviate the pain of degenerative joint disease.
    • Reflexology: This ancient type of exercise therapy has been used to stimulate the nervous system and help the body handle stress, fatigue, and pain, making it a prime therapy for natural osteoarthritis treatment.
    • Infrared Sauna: By using the heat and the cold, you can loosen up your joints and muscles, as well as lower swelling and pain associated with degenerative joint disease.


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