A joint refers to a structure in the human body where two or more bones meet, effectively holding the skeletal system together to allow movement. Joints are often grouped by function into three ranges of motion: (1) immovable joints, such as the skull, that do not permit movement; (2) amphiarthroses or joints that allow restricted movement; and (3) mobile joints such as the shoulder, hip, knees, fingers, wrists, and elbows that allow backward, forward, rotating, sideways, and pivotal movements.
As a structure, joints are consist of several parts including:
Cartilage - the tissue that covers the surface of the bone, which helps reduce friction as bones in the joints move through each other
Ligaments - tough, elastic bands of tissue that also surround the joint and physically connect bones together
Tendons - also a connective tissue that attaches the joint and bone to surrounding muscles that control movement
Synovial fluid and membrane - these structures line the joints and seal them into a capsule. The synovial fluid produced allows lubrication in the joint for smooth movement
Bursas - These are fluid-filled sacs that help cushion friction that may result during movement
Common Joint Problems/Conditions
Many of the joints in the body are heavily used for support and movement. Due to frequent use, disease, and injury, joints can be damaged by various conditions such as:
Arthritis - a family of disease that leads to inflamed, painful, and often swollen joints. Most joint arthritis may be classified as: (1) rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, (2) osteoarthritis, a degenerative disorder linked to aging, (3) Lyme arthritis caused by bacterial infection, and (4) gout, an inherent illness caused by defective enzymes and uric acid build-up.
Bursitis - a condition linked to excessive stress or overuse of the bursa located between the heel bone and the Achilles' tendon, leading to inflammation and pain in the affected area.
Dislocation - a condition wherein the bones of a joint are displaced due to injury, fall or unusual body movement. This leads to the deformity in the joint and may result in pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility in the affected area.
Sprain - a problem that results when the connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments associated with a joint are overstretched or torn. A sprained joint is often swollen and painful and requires immediate treatment.
Common Joint Procedures and Surgeries
Treatment for joint injury or disease depends on the cause. While the majority of cases can be treated with pain medication and R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), some more serious conditions may require rehabilitation (physical therapy) and sometimes surgery.
Below are the common joint procedures and surgeries:
Imaging tests – Patients who complain of symptoms related to joints often undergo imaging procedures to detect bone fractures and other related problems. Imaging procedures include X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Joint aspiration – If gout, infection, and pseudogout are suspected, joint aspiration, which is also known as arthrocentesis, may be performed. This involves the collection of synovial fluid from joint capsule using a needle and syringe that are specifically designed to drain fluid from the joint.
Joint Replacement Surgery - Serious injuries and chronic arthritis are usually treated through joint replacement surgery. This is the last line of treatment and is performed when no other modes of treatment are successful. In this procedure, the damaged joint (often the hip, knee or shoulder) is replaced with a synthetic material which properties closely resemble the joint. The goal of the procedure is to alleviate pain and inflammation and improve strength, mobility, and function.
Joint replacement surgery has very high success rates and is now performed using minimally invasive techniques. The surgery is usually supplemented with progressive rehabilitation for optimum results.