Osteoarthritis is a major cause of chronic pain, disability and activity limitation in modern Australia.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 1/11 Australians have osteoarthritis and the waitlists for joint replacement surgery are only getting longer.
As a physiotherapist, I treat people with osteoarthritis every day and I understand very well the challenges it presents.
So, what actually is osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it is characterised by the wearing away of cartilage in a joint – most commonly the hips, knees, spine and hands. This changes a joint’s congruency (shape) and can lead to pain, inflammation/swelling and loss of movement.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about osteoarthritis. Whilst it is caused by many unavoidable factors such as age, genetics and old injuries, the most common causes of osteoarthritis are actually being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle. Which means the opposite – exercise and a healthy lifestyle – are the best treatments for osteoarthritis. Literally – the best treatments! That’s not just my opinion, that’s a fact that’s been well established by countless research trials.
Too many people rush off to get costly and painful joint replacement surgeries with a lengthy recovery without adequately trialling the substantial benefits of exercise therapy. Appropriate exercise for an osteoarthritic joint is safe, does not further damage the joint (in fact it prevents further damage) and improves pain, function and quality of life. It’s also cheaper and easier than surgery – which should only be utilised as the last resort.
Physiotherapists are experts in prescribing safe and appropriate exercise for people with all degrees of osteoarthritis and can give practical advice on pain management strategies and healthy lifestyle tips. It might be a bit of hard work initially, but the benefits are extraordinary.
Osteoarthritic joint pain can improve without surgery. You just need to get out there and keep moving!
Ben Croxford is a Physiotherapist and leads the team at Form & Practice Mt Evelyn and Olinda. His writings explore his favourite health topics, challenge common myths and aim to empower you to take control of your own health. Find out more at formandpractice.com.au