What Is Chondrosis?

The deterioration of cartilage as seen in osteoarthritis

Chondrosis is a general term that means "cartilage breakdown." Cartilage acts as a cushion between the joints. With wear and tear, this cushion begins to deteriorate and can develop into osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in the knees, hands, hips, neck, and lower back.

Here's what you can do to prevent and treat the painful effects of chondrosis.

Chondrosis

The deterioration of cartilage caused by a variety of factors, including overuse, injury, genetics, and inflammation

Doctor showing patient knee x-ray on tablet

Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Types of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can develop in any joint, but these are some of the most common places it's found.

Knees

Runners and individuals with extra body weight are prone to wear and tear of the knees. A condition called patellofemoral (PF) chondrosis describes cartilage loss on the surface of the kneecap. Deep cartilage damage within the knee joint is called grade II chondrosis of the medial compartment.

Hands

Bone spurs may develop in the finger joints, becoming swollen and tender. Many patients experience pain at the base of the thumb. Cartilage breakdown in the hands impairs fine motor skills for everyday activities like writing, tying shoelaces, holding cooking utensils, buttoning clothing, and sewing.

Hips

The hips are a weight-bearing ball and socket joint with cartilage that lines the inner surface to enabling smooth and easy movement. If this cartilage starts to wear away, friction between the bones leads to bone spurs. Chondrosis in the hip joint can make it difficult to walk, causing stiffness and pain.

Neck

Osteoarthritis can also occur in the spine and neck, where it is usually referred to as cervical spondylosis. In between each vertebra of the spine, cartilage padding protects the bones from pressing against each other. When this breaks down, inflammation and pain can make it difficult to get comfortable for sleep or to perform daily activities.

Lower Back

The vast majority of back pain is short-term, resolving itself within a week. However, osteoarthritis in the back is one of the many potential causes of chronic back pain that doesn't seem to go away with time.

As the cartilage in the spine deteriorates, bony spurs develop pinching the nerves in the lower back. Your doctor will evaluate your condition to rule out other forms of arthritis.

Who Is at Risk?

Chondrosis of the knee is often associated with certain types of exercise or obesity. Every pound of weight on the upper body places 4 pounds of force on the knee joint.

Endurance athletes who run long distances are prone to joint pain. Fast-paced sports that require quick and dynamic movements (like basketball and tennis) are also hard on the knees.

Although high-impact exercise increases the risk of osteoarthritis, a sedentary lifestyle can also be a risk factor for chondrosis. Insufficient muscle tone fails to support the joints, placing them under added stress.

Osteoarthritis is common in individuals over age 50, with age being a leading cause of cartilage breakdown over time. Genetics also play a role, especially when triggered by inflammation. Our bone structure can influence the likelihood of chondrosis, as is the case for individuals with naturally shallow hip sockets (a condition called hip dysplasia).

Performing a repetitive motion over the course of several years leads to overuse of the joint and can wear away at the cartilage. Damage to cartilage may also happen during an injury or surgery and go unnoticed until osteoarthritis later develops.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

When chondrosis is diagnosed in the early stages before the progression of severe osteoarthritis, it's possible to manage the symptoms with non-invasive treatment options.

Working with a physical therapist to learn safe exercises to strengthen muscles surrounding the damaged joint will provide better support and stability to prevent further damage. A physical therapist may also assess your walking gait and teach you how to make beneficial adjustments to everyday movements.

An orthopedist can help you find appropriate footwear and inserts to reduce strain on your joints for walking. Sometimes, the assistance of a cane or a brace is necessary to protect vulnerable joints from damage.

If your job is contributing to the problem, an occupational therapist can assist you in making modifications to protect your joints. Adjusting your workspace to be more ergonomic can reduce pain, especially in the neck, back, and wrists.

Your doctor may advise weight loss as part of your treatment plan. Weight loss not only takes stress off of your weight-bearing joints but is also associated with reduced levels of low-grade inflammation that contributes to chondrosis in other areas of the body (including the hands).

For people with diabetes, getting blood sugar levels under control through healthy lifestyle choices can halt the progression of osteoarthritis. High blood sugar stiffens and weakens cartilage, making it more prone to damage. Diabetes also contributes to inflammation which exacerbates joint pain.

Medication and Supplements

Medication is usually paired with other non-surgical treatment methods to alleviate the joint pain associated with mild to moderate chondrosis. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications for pain and inflammation, including acetaminophen and NSAIDs.

Creams that contain capsaicin (a natural compound in hot peppers) may provide temporary pain relief. Your doctor may also suggest supplements like vitamin K, calcium, glucosamine, and chondroitin to support your bones and joints, but these can take two to three months before producing noticeable benefits.

Always discuss medications and supplements with your doctor.

Surgery

When chondrosis progresses to the point of severe pain or mobility limitations, surgery can provide a permanent and effective solution. Taking high doses of pain medication is not an ideal scenario for your health, and neither is being unable to exercise or get a good night's sleep.

When the risks of your current condition and treatment plan start to exceed the benefits, you may want to consider surgery. Consult with your doctor to learn the ins and outs of the procedure that's recommended for your condition.

Surgery may involve multiple steps, like arthroscopic surgery to remove inflamed tissue, followed by the stabilization or replacement of lost cartilage.

Healing from joint surgery can be a long road and requires a commitment to rehabilitation. Making sure your health is in the best possible state before surgery will give you the highest chances of a successful recovery.

A Word From Verywell

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is certainly true when discussing joint health. Protecting our joints from damage early in life can make things easier as we age.

However, sometimes the factors that contribute to chondrosis are out of our control, and surgery is our best option for a better quality of life. Consulting with your doctor and knowledgeable specialists will help you find the solution that's right for you.

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Article Sources
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