Does joint ‘degeneration’ cause pain?

By Reiss C Gridley, B.Sc.

Degeneration is ‘deterioration and loss of function in the cells of a tissue or organ’. Our bodies degenerate as we get older just like wrinkles appear on our skin. Here are 2 studies that look at joint degeneration and pain:

  • A study of 113 people by Finan et al that found a clear pattern of people with knees that look bad on a scan, but feel fine, and vice versa.
  • In another study professor Nikolai Bogduk explains that “‘Degenerative disc disease’ conveys to patients that they are disintegrating, which they are not. Moreover, disc degeneration, spondylosis and spinal osteoarthrosis correlate poorly with pain and may be totally asymptomatic.”

So, what does this mean to someone who has just had an X-ray on their arthritic knee or and MRI on their ‘degenerative’ spine? It means be sceptical when a health care professional says that it’s the reason for the pain. This is because most of the time it simply isn’t the cause of the pain but more of a symptom of aging.

From my personal experience with working for 3 years with X-rays, sometimes patients would have huge amounts of pain but no real sign of degeneration, even when older! The same happens when someone has very bad ‘degenerative disc disease’, but has a small amount of pain that goes away with one treatment.

The most likely reason for the joint pain, swelling and stiffness is inflammation. Inflammation can happen because of many reasons including rheumatoid arthritis or injury to the joint. One of the best ways to reduce inflammation is improving joint movement and function. At Back to Life we use specific exercises to help improve joint function and improve movement so we can tackle pain.

If you are suffering with arthritis, swelling, joint injury or pain. Please book in for a full 1-hour consultation so you can get to the bottom of what is causing the pain.