90 Million Are Affected
More than just “old age,” many young people experience this stiffness source, including terrible backs, elbow discomfort, and creaky knees. The root of the problem is arthritis, which affects almost 90 million Americans and causes inflammation and pain in their joints.
100 different arthritic conditions
Why is arthritis so prevalent? Why haven’t we found a cure for it? Arthritis is a spectrum of over 100 different arthritic conditions, which is the first hurdle.
Joint pain and inflammation are common symptoms in these situations, but the cause and degree of those symptoms differ significantly. It is a common misconception that arthritis is restricted to old age, and even the most prevalent type of osteoarthritis is more difficult to avoid than one would assume. For any seemingly ordinary joint injury following impact, immune cells rush in to help clean and repair the damaged site and begin pumping out enzymes, including matrix metalloproteinases and aggrecanases. While these enzymes help inflammation and remove damaged tissue, poorly healed tissue can lead to excessive inflammation if the immune cells are allowed to reside too long.
The continuing flood of enzymes degrades the cartilage, weakening the joint and leading to arthritis later. Not all forms of arthritis can be traced to an old sports injury. Take rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 13 million us adults. This condition is an autoimmune disease.
We still don’t know
We still don’t know what causes this behavior. Still, the result is that the body treats joint tissue like a foreign invader, as autoantibodies target natively produced proteins, some of which are secreted by cartilage cells. Even though there is no tissue damage to heal, immune cells reach the joint. Chronic inflammation results from this response, resulting in bone and cartilage destruction. Another characteristic of spondyloarthritis is that it has aspects of both.
Patients with persistent inflammation in their joints and at the places where ligaments and tendons attach to bones, despite no apparent damage, have been covered. As the enzymes eat away at cartilage, they release a flood of proteins known as cytokines, which cause osteoarthritis symptoms by driving the degradation of joints. Smaller joints are fused by the body to stabilize them.
This process sometimes leads to outgrowths called bone spurs, which also cause extreme stiffness and joint pain, with so many factors causing arthritis. Our current treatments are tailored to tackle specific symptoms rather than underlying causes. These range from promising techniques which harvest cells from small pieces of cartilage to grow replacement tissue to a process called microfracture, where surgeons create tiny holes in the bone, allowing bone marrow stem cells to leak out and form new cartilage.
A Treatment Challenge
Outside of these severe therapies, the underlying causes of autoimmune arthritis continue to present a distinctive treatment challenge for people with withered cartilage who may even need complete joint replacements. Although TNF-alpha is one of the most important proteins involved in rheumatoid arthritis, scientists are making steady progress with medications that block it, although they merely relieve the symptoms. Meanwhile, maintaining a healthy weight to take pressure off joints, doing low-impact exercises like yoga or cycling, and avoiding smoking are some of our best defenses against arthritis.
While we continue investigating cures and therapies for the many causes of arthritic diseases, these arthritis-fighting habits may help us live longer.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t know more about the causes of arthritis and how to eliminate it. For now, until research catches up, people will just need to manage the pain. That’s not an ideal answer, but it’s all we have right now. Once a surefire “cure” is found we can celebrate, but perhaps not too loudly. A remedy for arthritis once found is unlikely to cover every form of arthritis that is known. That means some will be free of it, but others will still need to seek methods of easing their pain.