A: Patients frequently ask me “What exactly is arthritis?” In a nutshell, arthritis is wearing away of the cartilage, which is the protective coating on the ends of bones. At each point in the body where two bones meet, called a joint, the bones are covered in a thin but very important layer of cartilage. The job of the cartilage is to allow the bones to move over each other frictionless as the joint moves back and forth.
To use an analogy, cartilage is like tread on a tire. Through age, wear and tear or injury, the cartilage will wear just like tread on a tire wears with more driving and time. Just like a car rides poorly on worn tires, your joints function poorly (or hurt) when the cartilage wears away. Unlike bone or other types of tissue, cartilage has a very limited ability to re-grow or heal itself. Thus, once arthritis starts to develop, it remains painful and typically worsens. Non-operative treatments are typically based on treating the symptoms of arthritis, typically pain and joint swelling, with medications or injections. In severe cases where all the cartilage wears away, joint replacement may be an option.
Information provided by sports medicine, knee and shoulder surgeon Dr. Nick Honkamp, Des Moines Orthopaedic Surgeons (DMOS) 515-224-5205.