The anatomy of osteoarthritic joint pain



The anatomical understanding of the pain generators in osteoarthritis (OA) is incomplete and the teaching about these pain generators in medical school anatomy/histology courses is minimal. This review covers the nociceptive innervation of synovial joints for the purposes of teaching. Studies that discuss the presence of neuropeptides involved in pain, such as Substance P (SP) and calcitonin-gene-related peptide, are the focus of this review. Nociceptive free-nerve endings and SP staining nerves are found in the accessory ligaments, synovium, subchondral bone, menisci, and periosteum. The vasculature may also play a role in pain generation through vasospasm or ischemia, but this has yet to be proven. Joint denervation may relieve joint pain showing that it is indeed articular nerves that are carrying pain impulses but denervation does not identify the precise source of the pain. It remains unclear which of the anatomical loci of pain generation are primary in OA and if sources of pain vary in different patients and in different joints. Clin. Anat. 27:451–454, 2014. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.