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Joints

Introduction

Joint movements are slow with age because of changes within the joints. Reaction time is also slower because of changes in the central nervous system where time lapse between the brain receiving the signal and the person responding to the signal increases with age.

In healthy individual, the joint surface is covered with cartilage producing a smooth and strong joint surface to overcome the bone impact. Synovial fluid also helps to smooth the joint movement.

As people age, the cartilage that lines the joints tends to thin. The surfaces of a joint may not slide over each other as well as they used to and the joint may be slightly more susceptible to injury. Ligaments, which bind joints together, tend to become less – elastic as people age, making joints tight or stiff. This change results from chemical changes in the proteins that make up the ligaments. Consequently most people become less flexible as they aged. Ligaments tend to tear more easily, and if so, they heal more slowly.

Repeated injury or the lifelong use of joints often leads to osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common disorders of later life. Osteoarthritis is a disease affecting the cartilage of a joint that is caused by injury or wear and tear of the joints over the years. It is an inevitable part of aging. The surface layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This cause bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing inflammations of the joints. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape.

Osteoarthritis can occur in any joints such as neck region, spines, hips and knees. Osteoarthritis of the knee joints will badly affect the quality of life since they are the joints which support the whole body weight.

Symptoms and Signs

Most common symptoms are pain, swelling and loss of motion of the joint. The pains are usually associated with stiffness and reduced range of movement.

Complications

  • If you have osteoarthritis, you will have difficulty in movement especially those involving knees and spines. The risk of fall is also increased.

  • In more severe condition, the elderly may become dependent and unable to manage herself/himself.

  • Frequent self- medications (without prescription by doctors) with pain killers may lead to medication related complications such as gastritis, peptic ulcers, renal impairment or worsening of heart failure.

Treatment

  • You have to see a doctor to confirm the type of joint disease(s) that you may be suffering from. You may need analgesics to reduce the pain but long- term use can have side-effect.

  • The doctor may refer you to see a physiotherapist and occupational therapist to further help you reduce the pain as well as to help you maintain as much as possible normal functions to affected joint(s). The physiotherapist will performed and teach you suitable exercises. Some patients may need instrumental aids to continue their daily activities as suggested by occupational therapy.

  • Weight loss is indicated when obesity or overweight is present as well.

  • Finally, if all of the above methods are not effective in relieving pain or regaining functions, surgery  like total joint replacement for knee joint osteoarthritis, is an option.

Last Review : 20 June 2014
Writer : Dr. Sanidah binti Md. Ali
Reviewed : Dr. Radziah binti Jabir