What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the word used to describe ‘wear and tear’ of joint surfaces. These changes are actually a normal part of aging and can be seen on scans in all of us at some point in our lives, some earlier or more severely than others. While as many as 30% of all those over the age of 50 show some signs of ‘wear and tear’ on scans, only a small portion of those actually have any symptoms at all, and so it is more common to NOT show any signs or symptoms. However, when you do have pain associated with your osteoarthritis, it can be a major cause of disability, pain, impaired mobility and decreased quality of life.
Signs of pain associated with arthritis are joint pains that are made work by prolonged positions or activity more than the joint is used to. Your joints also may feel hot and stiff and you may see some swelling.
What Causes Osteoarthritis to Become Painful?
Osteoarthritis can become painful following physical trauma (such as a road traffic collision or accident at work), however, the likelihood of developing symptoms and the severity of symptoms depends on a combination of factors including
- Prolonged positions or activities that put excessive or repeated strain on your joints – such as through poor manual handling techniques at home or work, or poor work habits such as not rotating tasks where possible, or not having regular stretch breaks.
- Individual factors – being female increases the likelihood of developing pain while increasing age increases the likelihood of ‘wear and tear’ of the joint surfaces.
- Physical wellbeing factors – smoking, obesity, poor general fitness and previous joint injuries all increase the likelihood of developing pain and the length of time it takes to recover.
- Psychological wellbeing factors – stress, depression and anxiety all increase the likelihood of developing pain and even increase the severity of pain and the length of time it takes to recover.
How can I help myself?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for osteoarthritis, as in the joint surfaces will never return to their youthful state. However, the good news is two-fold: 1. You cannot worsen or speed up the degeneration of the joint surfaces, and 2. You can work to minimise the factors that have made your osteoarthritis become painful and minimise those risk factors, thereby potentially making the pain reduce to a manageable level or even go altogether! Therefore, your attitude and the actions you take are the most important factors in keeping your joints healthy and happy. The most effective way to manage symptoms of osteoarthritis are to
- Avoid static positions for long periods of time and keep active. Low impact exercise such as yoga, pilates and swimming can be a good starting point, but ‘little and often’ stretch breaks are also important. Exercise is vital for long term joint health.
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what pain relief may be right for you. If your pain is controlled, you will be able to maintain more movement, while anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen), can help reduce inflammation within the joints.
- Apply gentle heat (such as a hot water bottle or microwaveable wheatbag) to reduce stiffness, or ice (wrapped in a towel) to reduce pain and inflammation if your joints are feeling hot or swollen after activity.
- Ensure you are following all manual handling techniques correctly at home and work – keep the load close to your waist, use your legs to lift, lower or push loads as these are the most powerful muscles in the body, and work within your capability.
How can physiotherapy help?
At Physiotherapy Matters, our physiotherapists can conduct a thorough assessment to confirm a diagnosis and work with you to help you manage your symptoms and return to normal activity by
- Helping you understand your condition
- Helping identify the factors that may be have caused or be aggravating your symptoms and providing advice on how to minimise these, including manual handling
- Developing symptom management strategies so you always feel in control
- Completing ergonomic workplace assessments to minimise any work-related risk
- Providing an individualised exercise program to improve mobility and strength in order to address symptoms but also to prevent future episodes, including work-hardening
- Providing additional manual therapies that may help ease symptoms, such as
- Soft tissue massage to reduce any muscular tension in the surrounding muscles
- Mobilisation of the joints to reduce stiffness
- Acupuncture to reduce pain
- Referral for additional services if required including
- Ostenil injection – to improve joint health and lubrication and reduce pain to help you exercise as much as possible.
Contact us today