WHAT IS OSTEOARTHRITIS?

By Sinead Sperrin PT

Osteoarthritis. OA.  Arthritis. Degeneration. Wear and Tear. Old Age.

These are all common terms thrown around when health professionals talk about that non-specific, nagging, aching, debilitating pain that people experience in their bones and joints. The term OSTEOARTHRITIS actually refers to:

“Osteo” meaning bone, “arthro” meaning joint, and “itis” meaning inflammation.

This condition can affect any part of the body, any person, and any person at any age. It can cause functional impairments, significant disability, and severe pain, but there are treatment options available.

WHAT CAUSES OSTEOARTHRITIS?

Osteoarthritis has 3 main characteristics:

  • Bony growth develops around the edges of the joints
  • Cartilage (the cushioning component around the outside of bones) is damaged
  • Synovitis (mild inflammation of the tissues of the joint) occurs

Cartilage destruction is one of the striking features of osteoarthritis, which in advanced stages leads to decreased joint space. These processes also lead to destruction of all tissues in the joint area, and is found mostly in the joint area that is more loaded than other areas. This is thought to be due to poor mechanics.

There appears to be a larger number of women who develop osteoarthritis in more than one joint in their body, with a marked increase after menopause, which suggests that oestrogen, or lack of, has a large effect on the development of arthritic changes.

 MYTHS ABOUT OSTEOARTHRITIS

 There are many myths and misconceptions associated with osteoarthritis, which is why it can be confusing for patients when dealing with this condition. Some of the most common myths are:

MYTH: Only older people suffer with joint pain

FACT: Joint pain, joint related changes, and arthritis can affect anyone at any age, and can be an ailment of children. The risk however does increase with age.

 MYTH: Osteoarthritis is genetic, and you will only get it if your parents had it

FACT: There are some genetic links to developing osteoarthritis, however the risk of developing it can still be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, reducing risks of fractures or overuse injuries, and increasing muscle strength around joints.

MYTH: You cannot exercise if you have osteoarthritis

FACT: Osteoarthritis hates sitting still. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including slow progressions into more activity is an essential part of maintenance. This may never take the pain away, but it will improve range of motion, strength and function

 MYTH: You must lose weight or you osteoarthritic pains will never cease

FACT: Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of management, and reducing the weight bearing load on your joints will help decrease the pain, however once degeneration begins, the degeneration will remain also.

 MYTH: Arthritis is not a serious health problem

FACT: Arthritis affects more than 3.85million Australians, and this causes a large economic burden to fall onto the government and health sectors, therefore there is significant cause for concern

 

TREATMENT FOR OSTEOARTHRITIS

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, however there are treatment options available that can help prevent and minimise further degeneration and pain, and improve function and quality of life.

PHYSIOTHERAPY: Physiotherapy can be a very affect way to manage those aches, pains, and functional disabilities due to your osteoarthritis. Treatment can involve exercise prescription, strengthening, massage, ultrasound, TENS, self management strategies, exercise, and advice for future care. Physiotherapy is also applicable post-surgery

EXERCISE: There is good evidence that regular physical activity is important for reducing pain and increasing strength, stretch, posture, and balance. The most comfortable exercises are usually low-weight bearing exercises, which include walking, hydrotherapy, tai chi/ yoga/ pilates, cycling, dancing, and strength training. The best time to perform exercise is when you have less pain, are the least stiff, and not too tired, and you should never exercise through pain

DIET: There is no specific diet that should be followed that is going to remove pain and disability, but a diet that is balanced, healthy, and avoids other health issues, is essential for management

MEDICINES: There are some medications that are of use in reducing pain and inflammation. NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) seem to be the most effective, such as voltaren and nurofen

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES: There is some moderate evidence that acupuncture is helpful, as well as the use of some natural products and herbs

SURGERY: This should always be the last option, unless otherwise specified by your orthopaedic specialist. Surgery involves a replacement of the joint to remove the degenerative and damaged joint.

 If you require an appointment, or would like to have a chat to one of our physiotherapists, please call us on 4975-1622.