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How joints work and what can go wrong
Most of the moveable joints between the bones of your body are synovial joints. In these joints, the ends of the two bones are covered in a smooth, slippery layer of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber. The joint capsule contains a lubricating fluid, called synovial fluid, which is a bit like teflon on a frying pan in that it makes everything “non-stick”, which helps your bones glide past each other when you bend the joint.
Osteoarthritis – in this disease, the top layer of the cartilage covering the bones within the joint softens, breaks down, and wears away, which allows the bones underneath to rub against each other every time you bend. The continual grating causes the ends of the bones to thicken, narrowing the gap between them, which causes pain, swelling and loss of motion in the joint. Everyone’s joints undergo wear-and-tear over time, but osteoarthritis is more than just that, as we now know that it is a disease that affects the entire joint including the cartilage, synovial membranes, ligaments, and bone. Sometimes bits of frayed cartilage or bone fragments can break off inside the joint, causing more pain and damage. Osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, but most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints including your knees, hips and spine, often starting in just one joint. Other joints that have been previously injured or overused may also be affected, e.g., the joints in your hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis – this disease is caused by an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues. In this case, the “autoantibodies” attack the synovial membrane inside your joints, causing inflammation and fluid build up within the joint capsule. Over time, the joint surface begins to erode, restricting your movement, and often eventually causing your joints to become deformed.