Musculoskeletal system diseases

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Arthritis – As we age, our joint tissues become less resilient to wear and tear and start to degenerate manifesting as swelling, pain, and oftentimes, loss of mobility of joints. Changes occur in both joint soft tissues and the opposing bones, a condition called osteoarthritis. A more serious form of disease is called rheumatoid arthritis. The latter is an autoimmune disease wherein the body produces antibodies against joint tissues causing chronic inflammation resulting in severe joint damage, pain and immobility.

Osteoporosis – “Porous bone.” The bane of the old, especially, women. The hard, rock-like quality of bone is dependent upon calcium. When too much calcium is dissolved from bones or not enough replaced, bones lose density and are easily fractured. Estrogen, the female sex hormone, helps maintain proper calcium levels in bones. Once the ovaries stop producing the hormone, women are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. A collapse of bony vertebrae of the spinal column results in loss of height and stooped posture. Hip fractures are a common occurrence.

Osteomalacia – “Soft bones.” If not enough calcium is deposited during early childhood development, the bones do not become rock-hard, but rubbery. Both adequate calcium in the diet and vitamin D, primarily, from normal sunlight exposure or supplementation, are necessary for normal bone development. Before vitamin supplementation to milk, “rickets,” another name for osteomalacia in children, was common resulting in the classic bowed legs of the afflicted child.

Carpal tunnel syndrome – People whose job involves repeated flexing of their wrist (typing, house painting) may develop tingling and/or pain in their thumb, index and middle fingers along with weakness of movements of the thumb, especially, grasping an object. The main nerve for finely controlled thumb movements passes through a bony/ligamentous canal on the bottom of the wrist. Repetitive flexing movements may inflame and thicken the ligament over the “tunnel” through the carpal (wrist) bones trapping and compressing the nerve.

Tendonitis– Repeated strain on a tendon, attachment of a muscle to bone, can inflame the tendon resulting in pain and difficulty with movement involving the muscle. Tendons have a poor blood supply; therefore, they typically take a long time to heal on the order of six weeks or more.

Rotator cuff tear – Muscles surrounding the shoulder joint are involved in rotating the shoulder with upper arm and hand forward and backward, among other movements. The tendons of these muscles also contribute to the structural strength of the shoulder joint. Hard, fast movements, such as in tennis and baseball can tear one of these tendons resulting in pain and decreased mobility of the shoulder. Surgery may be needed to repair a torn tendon.

Bursitis – A bursa is a small, closed bag with a minimum amount of lubricatory fluid that serves as a shock absorber where bones make close contact and to minimize trauma and friction where tendons cross bones and joints. Inflammation leads to pain and immobility in a joint area.

Muscular dystrophy – Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited diseases in which the muscles that control movement progressively weaken. The prefix, dys-, means abnormal. The root, -trophy, refers to maintaining normal nourishment, structure and function. The most common form in children is called Duchenne muscular dystrophy and affects only males.  It usually appears between the ages of 2 to 6 and the afflicted live typically into late teens to early 20s.

Myasthenia gravis – “Muscular weakness, profound”. This is an autoimmune disease that involves production of antibodies that interfere with nerves stimulating muscle contractions. Face and neck muscles are the most obviously affected, manifesting as drooping eyelids, double vision, difficulty swallowing and general fatigue. There is no actual paralysis of muscles involved, but a rapid fatiguing of function.

Lupus erythematosus – An autoimmune disease wherein the body produces antibodies against a variety of organs, especially connective tissues of skin and joints. Mild Lupus may involve a distinctive butterfly-shaped rash over the nose and cheeks. Mild lupus may also involve myalgia and arthralgia (remember these words?) Severe or systemic lupus (SLE) involves inflammation of multiple organ systems such as the heart, lungs, or kidneys. By the way, lupus means “wolf” in Latin. Maybe a reference to the facial rash that might give a patient a wolf-like appearance.

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