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Study re-examines the causes behind osteoarthritis pain

May 30, 2013

Joint replacement surgery is one of the most popular ways for seniors to treat pain caused by osteoarthritis. In fact, the number of joint replacements increased by about 25 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Despite how effective the surgery may be, its recovery period often necessitates the use of assisted living or long term care. However, recent findings from researchers at Johns Hopkins University indicate those days may soon be over.

New view of the conditions
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, may change how the medical community views the development of osteoarthritis. Specifically, it questions whether the condition is caused primarily by the cartilage that cushions the joints. Instead, it suggests that the bone underneath the cartilage is also to blame, something that could change the way doctors treat the pain and discomfort caused by osteoarthritis. In other words, researchers speculate that the damage to the cartilage stimulates the production of excess bone, which is responsible for the pain.

"If there is something wrong with the leg of your chair and you try to fix it by replacing the cushion, you haven't solved the problem," said Dr. Xu Cao. "We think that the problem in OA [osteoarthritis] is not just the cartilage 'cushion,' but the bone underneath."

Potential for innovative treatments
A new way of viewing osteoarthritis could help create more effective treatments, and the research team has already uncovered some potential options. Most promising, they found that a certain kind of drug, known as a TGF-beta1 inhibitor, had a positive impact on the bone quality of mice without damaging their cartilage. Of course, there need to be considerably more studies conducted on the subject, but experts are optimistic. 

Options other than surgery
Outside of medical treatments and surgery, there are other remedies available to help alleviate some of the pain caused by osteoarthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce the symptoms. Although it may seem difficult to stay physically active with pain, experts say that gentle exercises such as swimming or water aerobics are helpful ways to reap the benefits while reducing the stress on joints.