1 in 6 Australians (3.9 million) suffer from some form of arthritis with over half of those (2.2 million) suffering from Osteoarthritis (2).
So what is it?
Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in a joint. It is a degenerative condition that happens as you get older due to the cartilage that protects the ends of your bones, breaking down.
It typically affects the joints that are under the most stress or we use most often in our daily lives. Hands, hips, knees and the lower back are the most common areas.
Osteoarthritis isn’t something that affects your whole body. You can have it in just one joint or in multiple joints. It is due to loading and stress placed on a joint rather than a disease.
Do I need scans?
In some cases scans can be helpful and if you are heading down the surgery path they will definitely be needed. For most people though it isn’t necessary. The reason is that what you see on a scan, and what you actually feel can be very different. Many people can have severe degeneration on a scan but no pain and vice versa. There can also be some issues as people tend to worry more if they see some degeneration on a scan even if it is perfectly normal for their age.
Do I need surgery?
Surgery is best looked at as a last resort for people who aren’t able to manage their pain in other ways or are finding it is severely impacting on their daily activities. Partial or complete joint replacements are the surgery of choice with knees and hips being the most common (over 102,000 were performed in 2015) (1). Other surgical options include arthroscope, joint resurfacing and joint fusion. These options are best discussed with your surgeon if the time comes.
From my experience, results from surgery can vary with exercise both before and after playing a huge role in how successful the intervention is. It isn’t a case of getting a new joint and being as good as new! Your Osteopath can help you with both your prehab (exercise to prepare for surgery) and your rehab to give you the best chance of having a good outcome.
What can I do?
Exercise! A lot of people who have been told they have arthritis have also been told to avoid using that area. Yes, this may reduce some pain but it will often stop you from doing the things you enjoy most. Research has shown that exercise can help improve function and reduce pain in those suffering from knee OA (3).
For those that may be a little overweight, losing a few kilos can make a difference too. The less weight you are carrying then the less load there will be on the joints.
Even with people who have more severe OA, exercises such as swimming, cycling and yoga can keep you active and moving while reducing the impact on your joints. Even resistance training can be great to help strengthen the muscles around the joint.
There really is no excuse to not keep moving! Come and speak to your Osteopath if you need any advice on what exercises are right for you.
Should I take supplements?
There is no strong evidence that supports taking supplements to help with managing the pain and stiffness with osteoarthritis. Popular supplements are chondroitin and glucosamine have been shown to have very little effect while other supplements such as pycnogenol and curcumin may be more effective but have little research (4). The best option is to speak to your GP about these.
Osteoarthritis is very common and can be quite painful and debilitating. It doesn’t have to be though. There are a wide range of ways that you can manage your pain so that it doesn’t affect the activities you love. If you would like more or information or are suffering please come and see us so we can work out the best strategy for you.
Blog by Damian Berenato, Osteopath at McKinnon Osteopathy.
To book an appointment with Damian Click here or call on 9578 2436
1. Arthritis Australia. (2013). Joint Replacement: A practical guide to understanding joint replacement surgery [Ebook]. New South Wales. Retrieved from https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ArthAus_JointReplacement_17.pdf
2. Arthritis Australia. (2016). Counting The Cost Executive Summary: The current and future burden of arthritis [Ebook]. Broadway. Retrieved from https://arthritisaustralia.com.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Final-Counting_SUMMARY_MAY2016_160527.pdf
3. Fransen M, McConnell S, Harmer AR, et al Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee: a Cochrane systematic review Br J Sports Med 2015;49:1554-1557.
4. Liu X, Machado GC, Eyles JP, et al Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2018;52:167-175.