The meaning of the word osteonecrosis can sound macabre: osteonecrosis literally means “death of the bone.” Osteonecrosis is a form of arthritis in which the bone loses its blood supply. When the bone loses access to the bodys blood supply, the bone will decay and disintegrate.
This breakdown process is known as a vascular necrosis. At its inception, the affected bones become soft and porous. They grow brittle and are easily broken.
Clearly, osteonecrosis is a serious form of arthritis that can be quite debilitating. The condition most often strikes joints in the hip, knee, and ankle area. The majority (around 90 per cent) of osteonecrosis patients are affected in the hip area. However, the disease can strike in more than one joint at one time.
Unlike other forms of arthritis, osteonecrosis can afflict even the very young. The average age of onset, 38 years, is much lower than in some forms of arthritis.
In young children and teenagers, a form of osteonecrosis called Legg-Calve-Perth’s disease can develop. This form of the disease tends to affect the hip or femur more than other joints. If Legg-Calve-Perth’s disease is not treated aggressively early on, the femur head will usually attempt to heal on its own, but will tend to heal in a collapsed position that causes pain and stiffness.
How is osteonecrosis caused, and is there anything you can do to prevent it? The best way to prevent osteonecrosis is to prevent any kind of hip injury. Most instances of osteonecrosis occur after the joint has suffered from trauma or injury.
When the joint becomes fractured, the blood supply may become blocked. This in turn causes the onset of osteonecrosis. Studies show that hip injuries may place an individual at a greater risk for developing osteonecrosis. In fact, some studies report that approximately 20 per cent of those who suffer from some kind of hip injury will develop osteonecrosis. However, minor trauma or injuries will not usually cause the onset of osteonecrosis.
How do you know if you’ve developed osteonecrosis? One of the first symptoms that most patients note is the feeling of aching and generalized pain in the area of the affected joints. Some patients experience difficult in pinpointing the precise location of the pain. That is, some patients who are suffering from pain may have difficulty describing where the pain originates. For instance, many individuals may report feeling pain in their groin area, where the true inflammation is often located in the hips.
Treatments vary depending on each patient’s circumstance. To fight inflammation, some doctors prescribe corticosteroids. But most steroid-based drug medications cannot be taken for an extended period of time as they may cause dangerous side effects. Your doctor will be able to decide if this is an appropriate treatment option for your case.
Drug therapy is usually used in combination with other treatment options. These may include dietary changes, special exercise routines, and in severe cases, surgical intervention. The use of special assistive devices such as walkers and crutches can also be used to deal with the effects of this often difficult condition.