Everyone has heard of the term or maybe even knows someone who suffers from arthritis. Arthritis is a blanket term for many conditions, so in this blog we are going to concentrate on osteoarthritis which is the most common and the condition most people would affiliate with the term arthritis.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is where the cartilage (the stuff on the end of bones that allow joints adequate mobility and shock absorption) begins to degenerate and reduce in volume. This makes the cartilage less effective at allowing joints to glide past one another. OA used to be attributed to “wear and tear” and as something that happens from overuse, but this explanation is becoming less and less used, especially with research that suggests that marathon runners have no more knee arthritis than the general public. If anything, the opposite may be true as strong muscles provide support to the joints and will help reduce the load placed on the cartilage.
Nobody knows why osteoarthritis occurs, however, it is thought that osteoarthritis may be due to a lifelong battle between damage and healing within the joint. After a small injury, the joint may not heal completely, this leads to the body needing to distribute the weight more effectively. One strategy for this is increasing the bone in the area which is why people with arthritis often have different looking joints as this new bone growth has distorted the appearance of the area.
My x-ray showed severe arthritis, why can I still move?
Results on X-ray/ MRI or other imaging may show areas that have undergone degenerative changes and this is categorised as: mild, moderate or severe. These levels show the degree of reduced joint space/ new bone growth around the area. This will NOT correlate with pain levels felt by the patient. Someone with “mild” OA may be in lots of pain and someone with “severe” OA may have no pain and vice versa.
Does being overweight cause osteoarthritis?
It may be a contributing factor. More weight means more load that joints need to “shock absorb” and thus may lead to more “small injuries” which then leads to more healing. One strategy for weight loss is to increase the amount of exercise someone does, and this may help an arthritic joint by increasing the capabilities of the muscles that stabilise that joint and also reduce the amount of load put upon it.
Most common joints affected?
The hips, knees, hands/ wrists and feet/ ankle are the most common sights for OA, however, in theory you can get OA in any cartilaginous joint.
How many people have OA?
1/3 of people over the age of 45 (8.75 million people) have sought treatment for osteoarthritis.
What can help my arthritis?
There are several methods to help arthritic pain and it would be suggested that several are undertaken to have the best chance at controlling the pain levels.
- Exercise is crucial for anyone, even those with OA. A healthcare provider should recommend certain exercises to do that are specific to the patient whether they have hip OA or hand OA, everyone can do exercises to help their issue. For hip and knee exercises, this will incorporate non- weight bearing exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling etc.
- See a manual therapist (physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath etc) who can help treat around the area. A lot of pain from arthritic pain may not be from the joint itself, but the soft tissues (muscles/ tendons/ ligaments) around the area. These can be easily treated and rapid pain reduction may be felt.
- Analgesic medications may be considered: pain medications, topical analgesics (capsaicin cream) and corticosteroid injections.
- Weight loss (dietary changes and exercise)
- Assistive devices: stick/ cane or more fitting footwear.