The majority of the population have heard of the common term “arthritis” and are aware that it is simply a joint disease. There are more than 100 different illnesses associated with arthritis and the most common of all is osteoarthritis. In 2017-2018 approximately 2.2 million Australians (9.3%) reportedly had osteoarthritis.
To truly understand Osteoarthritis (OA), and how we can manage it, we need to break it down into its basic components.
WHAT IS OSTEOARTHRITIS?
'osteo' meaning bone,
'arthro' meaning joint; and
'ritis' meaning inflammation
OA is a chronic condition characterised by the inflammation and degeneration of the articular surfaces (cartilage) of bones within our joints. This results in the bones rubbing together, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, joint instability, muscle weakness and loss of motion. Affected joints may also become swollen and tender which can affect fine motor skills.
As osteoarthritis progresses it can become difficult to perform everyday tasks. At first pain is felt during and after activity, but as the condition worsens pain may be felt during minor movements or even at rest. OA can lead to impaired function and a reduced quality of life if not properly managed.
HOW DO YOU TREAT OSTEOARTHRITIS?
Osteoarthritis mostly affects the hands, spine and joints such as hips, knees and ankles, and usually gets worse over time. The treatment and management of arthritis is guided by five basic principles:
stop the disease process,
keep your joints active,
prevent deforming joints,
reconstruct affected joints; and
This may sound daunting, but a qualified exercise physiologist can help to guide you on the journey of prolonging your joints and maintaining quality of life.
WHAT CAUSES OSTEOARTHRITIS?
Being the most common of the arthritidies, and one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions, there have been numerous studies surrounding the causes and treatments of OA.
Osteoarthritis has no specific cause, however several risk factors contribute to the onset and progression of the disease. These include but are not limited to:
Previous joint injury or trauma (such as dislocation or fracture)
A family history of OA
Repetitive joint-loading tasks (for example, kneeling, squatting and heavy lifting).
Although osteoarthritis affects people of all ages, the prevalence increases sharply from the age of 45 years. 1 in 5 Australians (21%) over the age of 45 have osteoarthritis. It is most common in adults aged 75 and over, with just over one-third (36%) of people in this age group experiencing the condition. Osteoarthritis is also more common among females than males, affecting 10% of females compared with 6.1% of males (after adjusting for age).
HOW CAN WE HELP MANAGE AND PREVENT OSTEOARTHRITIS
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) summarised the available evidence for knee and hip OA then provided guidelines for clinicians to follow. Interventions available were researched and recommendations were made according to their efficacy.
Out of all interventions covered within the guidelines “strong recommendations” were only given for the following treatments:
Land based exercise (e.g. walking, muscle strengthening exercise, Tai-chi).
Weight management (for those who are overweight or obese, aiming to reduce body weight by as little as 5-7.5%)
Specific and appropriate exercise prescription is considered a primary care intervention for OA. The type, intensity, volume and duration are specific for each individual therefore consulting with an exercise physiologist and devising a plan appropriate for you is the best practice.
We strongly recommend early intervention, so if you have signs of joint pain, or if you are currently experiencing OA, we suggest making an appointment with an exercise physiologist who can guide you on prevention and management specific to your personal circumstances.