Osteoarthritis – What is it and what can I do about it?
Osteoarthritis can be typically defined as a reduction of cartilage between bones, with the presence of inflammation, pain and reduction in movement. It can affect any joint, but it often occurs in the hands, knees, hips and spine. It typically affects people over the age of 50, occurring more frequently with women than men. It is commonly experienced as gradual and worsening symptoms over time. It is becoming more prevalent in Australian society and it is important for us to understand what we can do to help manage this disease.
There is a positive relationship between individualised, gradual and progressive exercise participation and improvements in function and reduction of pain in those who have Osteoarthritis.
What are the risk factors?
Previous joint injury
What are the symptoms?
Pain or achiness during or after activity, or at the end of a day
Stiffness into the joint upon waking, or after rest
Reduced range of motion of the joint that improves with movement
Clicking or cracking – though remember that this is not your joint getting worse!
Swelling around the joint
How is it diagnosed?
Medical history can be used to determine whether there are other presentations at play
Imaging such as an X-ray or MRI to determine joint structure changes and to rule out other conditions
Lab testing can also help determine if there are other medical conditions present
What can we do about it?
Medications including analgesics, anti-inflammatories and injections are commonly used to help with pain management, however the long-term benefits are not always guaranteed – please ensure that you adhere to the recommendations and prescription dosages by your General Practitioner
Joint surgeries can improve function to restore mobility and relieve pain, however depending on the severity of the joint changes, it is best to either delay surgery and to try non-invasive interventions first, or instead of an operation
Weight loss can assist in reducing load and inflammation through both the joint affected, and the rest of the body. There is strong evidence that this can improve the function and capacity of someone experiencing limitations relating to Osteoarthritis
Exercise is one of the most important and effective forms of intervention for the management of Osteoarthritis, and the best thing is that it can not only help to restore function, but also help to reduce pain over time! While some people are nervous when starting exercise because of Arthritis-related pain, this improves over time as you become more physically active.
How can exercise help my Osteoarthritis?
Resistance training can improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the affected joint, helping to support and ease the amount of loading experienced through it, and improves your ability to complete daily activities, with less discomfort and effort
Mobility and stretching exercises can help keep joints from becoming stiff and to maintain your ability to move in a wide range of movements, it is also an easy introduction towards completing more vigorous types of exercise too!
Aerobic exercise such as walking can help to improve your fitness, recovery and energy levels, which also makes it easier to move more freely, and with less pain. It is also helpful for assisting in weight maintenance. A little can go a long way!
Balance training is great for reducing the risk of falls, makes you more steady on your feet, and is also great if you are finding your joints are more irritable on a given day, meaning you can do something even on those tough days!
How can I get started?
If you are experiencing limitations relating to your Osteoarthritis, get in touch with one of our Exercise Physiologists who can assess and design a suitable exercise program that is in line with your goals and level of capacity. It’s never too late to get started!
Ackerman, IN, Bohensky, MA, Zomer, E, Tacey, M, Gorelik, A, Brand, CA & de Steiger, R 2019, ‘The projected burden of primary total knee and hip replacement for osteoarthritis in Australia to the year 2030’, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, vol. 20, no. 90, pp. 90, https://doi.org/ 10.1186/s12891-019-2411-9.
Arthritis Foundation, Osteoarthritis, viewed 17 May 2021, <https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/osteoarthritis>.
Bunzli, S, O’Brien, P, Ayton, D, Dowsey, M, Gunn, J, Choong, P & Manski-Nankervis JA 2019, ‘Misconceptions and the Acceptance of Evidence-based Nonsurgical Interventions for Knee Osteoarthritis. A Qualitative Study’, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, vol. 477, no. 9, pp 1975-1983, https://doi.org/10.1097/CORR.0000000000000784.