Our joints are continually subjected to strain by incessant movement. Over time, the cartilage covering them becomes progressively worn. Hence we start to feel pain and stiffness, which becomes increasingly persistent as the years pass, affecting various regions of the body.
The joint system
The joint system is a set of multiple elements (bone extremities, cartilage, synovial membrane, tendons, ligaments, muscles, vessels, nerves) united by a single function: movement. The extremities of bones that articulate with each other are covered by cartilage, a structure rich in elastic collagen fibres and intercellular substance; poor in cells, and devoid of nerves and vessels. Its nourishment is therefore ensured by the synovial fluid. It is compared to a ‘shock absorber’ by way of its mechanical function, or else a ‘sponge’.
Osteoarthritis and arthritis
The essential element of the osteoarthritis process consists in the progressive wear of the articular cartilage and subsequent contact between the opposing bone surfaces, causing painful inflammation and stiffness.
The main symptom of osteoarthritis is stiffness and joint pain in the affected region. In case of osteoarthritis, the painful stiffness eases with progressive movement, while in the case of arthritis, movement aggravates the pain.
The inflammatory process can result in swelling, reddening, increased warmth in the joints. Movement triggers or aggravates the pain and is sometimes accompanied by articular crepitus.
Pain and articular stiffness of joints affected by the osteoarthritis process worsen with immobility and improve with slow, gradual and progressive movement (the so-called ‘gearwheel’ effect).
The most common localised forms of the osteoarthritis process are: neck osteoarthritis, lumbar osteoarthritis, thumb joint osteoarthritis or rhizarthrosis, hip osteoarthritis or coxarthrosis, knee osteoarthritis or gonarthrosis, foot osteoarthritis.
Prevention and treatment
Options for the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis are based on lifestyle (healthy weight, regular exercise, healthy diet, proper hydration, correct posture, reduced load), symptomatic and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), herbal medicines, treatment with infiltrations (hyaluronic acid), physiotherapy, orthosis, rehabilitation, acupuncture.
Certain nutritional supplements perform a protective action with respect to joints, having an anti-inflammatory and protective effect on the articular cartilage, documented by research, such as palmitoyl ethanol amide or PEA, hydrolysed native collagen, undenatured type II collagen and vitamin C.