Causes of Joint Pain: Osteoarthritis - SkyGen

Causes of Joint Pain: Osteoarthritis

As of 2012, around 1.8 million Australians were suffering from osteoarthritis (8% of the nation’s population or 1 in every 12 people). Between the ages of 55-64, one in seven men and one in four women are currently suffering from osteoarthritis in Australia.

The commonality of the condition could be explained in part by the wide range of precursory factors that can contribute to its development. Direct trauma to a joint can cause immediate damage to cartilage which often begins the slow march to degeneration over time. Weakness of or damage to the tendons and muscles around a joint can lead to compensatory motions that put unnatural stress on the joint, further exacerbating the deterioration of cartilage.

A misalignment of the bones from birth, or resulting from later developmental abnormalities, can also lead to compensatory movements causing the joints to bare awkward forces. Excess weight, particularly from non-supportive fat, can put unnatural stress on the knee and hip joints and damage the cartilage. Heavier muscular men and women typically have better control and muscular support around their joints, better aligning the joint surfaces and translating the force more naturally through the body of the joint which is known to improve cartilage and bone integrity.

The go-to phrase in orthopaedics is “wear and tear”. Use, abuse, or trauma sustained by a joint compromises the cartilage and the process of gradual deterioration begins. There is also an element of genetics and a necessity for continuous joint movement that seem to be involved, so life in a bubble is not a guaranteed preventative measure.

Preventing the development of osteoarthritis, beyond that made inevitable by the cruelest genetic fate, is similar to the prevention of traumatic sports-related injuries. Common sense when engaging in heavy activity goes a long way i.e. wearing a back brace when moving heavy furniture and lifting from the knees, not pushing past a safe point when exercising and knowing your limits.

According to the World Orthopaedic Medical Travel Centre, it is also important not to overlook the danger of light, but repeated stresses, particularly on small joints. This is the sort of damage that often occurs in an office work environment from things like handling a mouse or long periods spent typing whilst sitting with bad posture. Weight maintenance and diet can also help prevent small injuries from gradually developing into big problems, particularly in the lower to mid-back..

Tragically, however, diagnosed osteoarthritic joints typically demand treatment and maintenance, rather than quixotic stabs at prevention. And it’s only once the joint starts making demands that it gets any attention – squeaky wheels and what not.

The range of treatment options available to people suffering from osteoarthritis had not seen much change until relatively recently. Initial physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen followed by trials of opiates and injections through to surgical joint replacement have been the standard steps within most life-long treatment plans.

Artificial joints have improved tremendously in recent years, and patients who go this route usually recover well and see great improvements in joint movement and comfort levels. But they still require maintenance after several years and eventually have to be replaced. This makes them a less accessible option for younger people, who are often advised by their doctors to wait before undergoing such a dramatic procedure. 10 percent of Australian women and 8 percent of Australian men between the ages of 45 and 54 were feeling the gnawing presence of osteoarthritis in 2012. That’s a lot of people who can’t take the time off from work to recover from a seriously invasive operation like a total joint replacement. And of course traditional joint replacement isn’t available to individuals suffering from osteoarthritis in any joint other than the knee or hip.

Stem cell therapies are beginning to change all of this. Adipose derived stem cells (stem cells from the fatty tissue of the patient) have been shown to facilitate natural regeneration of the appropriate kind of cartilage and actually reverse many of the painful effects of osteoarthritis.

This regenerative quality of the adipose derived stem cells has the potential to completely alter the contemporary treatment landscape for people who are living with all forms of chronic joint pain, including osteoarthritis. This is because minor cases of osteoarthritis can be treated early, repairing any damages to the cartilage before they start to snowball. Both laboratory and clinical evidence now show with increasing intensity that arthritis is not necessarily a lifelong condition anymore.

Unfortunately these treatments are still not widely available in many countries, Australia being one of them. And when they are, they are often quite limited in scope and too expensive to be appealing to people whose pain is not already crippling.

True to its modern form, the Thai medical industry has embraced the science of stem cells and has long conducted pioneering work in the treatment of chronic joint pain. The structure of the health care system here also makes it possible for modern stem cell clinics and large private hospitals to provide safe, state of the art treatments at costs that bring them well within the reach of many people who would not have had access to them otherwise. Much like we don’t mind buying televisions assembled in Germany or smartphones produced in China, a full spread of modern medical options is available on its own competitive international market. With the cost of travel now so affordable and the Thailand medical tourism industry so thoroughly supported by offshore funders, it’s no surprise why savvy Australians visit Thailand to meet their needs for surgery, stem cells and unrivaled healthcare support.

*Please read: Although the information provided on this page may describe a particular patient experience and/or outcome, readers must understand that each patient presents with a unique medical history and may be recommended a different treatment/surgery by their surgeon to that described above. Individual results may vary between surgery centre/hospital, surgeon, surgery type and patient. Although SkyGen agrees to share all updates from patients at their request, SkyGen does not endorse any physical activities attempted by patients following surgery which do not follow the explicit instructions provided by their surgeon. SkyGen encourages all patients to discuss the risks of such activities with medical professionals before attempting these themselves.

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Written by William Harrison

William Harrison is a professional medical writer and investigatory health journalist. Left partially paralysed in a fall that broke his back, he received two serious spinal operations and learned to walk again in Thailand, the land he now calls home. A food loving, tea guzzling, experience junkie, he has written extensively on health, medicine, fitness and Thai tourism. The partial product of his experiences and passions, he now avidly follows the development of stem cell therapies internationally as SkyGen's resident health journalist.