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The innervation of the joint and its role in osteoarthritis pain 

The innervation of the joint and its role in osteoarthritis pain
The innervation of the joint and its role in osteoarthritis pain

Jason J. McDougall

and Joel A. Vilensky

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date: 23 June 2021

Diarthrodial joints possess an extensive network of sensory and sympathetic nerve fibres whose physiological functions are varied and complex. Nerves are primarily located in the synovium but also innervate the subchondral bone, the outer third of menisci, and the superficial surface of tendons and ligaments. Large-diameter, myelinated neurons are involved in joint position sense while small-diameter neurons with thin or no myelin typically sense pain. The small-diameter nerves in conjunction with sympathetic fibres control synovial blood flow and maintain joint homeostasis. In patients with osteoarthritis (OA), the sensory nerves become sensitized and increase their firing rate in response to normal movement. This peripheral sensitization is mediated by numerous algogenic agents released into the OA knee including neuropeptides, eicosanoids, and proteinases. A portion of joint afferents fire in the absence of mechanical stimuli and encode pain at rest. Interestingly, the firing rate of joint afferents does not correlate with OA severity, indicating that pain is a poor predictor of joint pathology. Evidence is accumulating to suggest that a subpopulation of OA patients who are unresponsive to classical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be suffering from neuropathic pain in which there is damage to the joint nerves themselves. Better understanding of the biology of joint nerves could help in the development of patient-targeted therapies to alleviate OA pain and inflammation.

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