Osteoarthritis and Physiotherapy
If you were dealing with a sports injury or recovering after an operation, you'd probably consider physiotherapy.
But have you ever thought of physiotherapy as a treatment for osteoarthritis? Maybe not.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis affects the whole joint. That includes the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. It can affect any joint but is most commonly found in the knees, hips, fingers and big toes.
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Though they're often used interchangeably, signs and symptoms have different meanings:
- A sign is objective evidence of a medical condition – something that your doctor or physio can see when they examine you or that shows up on test results or scans.
- A symptom is something you experience as a result of the condition – it’s a personal experience like soreness or fatigue.
Signs of OA may include:
- Swelling due to inflamed tissues around the affected joint
- Damage to the joint cartilage, the cushion between your bones that allows your joint to move smoothly
- Bony spurs growing around the joint (you may be able to feel a lump)
- Deteriorating tendons and ligaments around the affected joint.
If you're living with OA, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Stiff, painful and tender joints
- A grating sensation when you move (because the cartilage that cushions your joint has worn thin)
- Hard lumps around your joint (those are bone spurs growing on your joint)
- Difficulty moving the joint through its full range of motion.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
For a long time, osteoarthritis was seen as a ‘wear and tear’ disease because it tends to be more common as you get older. The idea was that constant use of your joints over many years progressively wore down the cartilage that cushions your joints and prevents the bones rubbing against each other.
There’s some truth in that but it turns out that OA is more complicated. Nowadays, we see osteoarthritis as an inflammatory disease.
Inflammation is often a consequence of your immune system swinging into action to fix something it sees as a problem. Often, it’s a good thing. Inflammation helps deliver more blood to an injured or infected area of your body to speed up the healing process.
Sometimes, though, your immune system goes into overdrive. That can cause ongoing, low-level inflammation that hurts your body.
In the case of osteoarthritis, it’s now thought that your body has tried to do some initial DIY repair work on your damaged cartilage but never downed tools, leading to inflammation of the joint lining. Inflammation both starts and perpetuates OA.
Obesity as a Risk Factor for OA
Your risk of developing OA increases with your weight. Obviously your hips and knees have to support those extra kilos.
Mainly though, it’s because obesity creates an inflammatory environment. Extra fat tissues produce proteins that cause harmful inflammation in and around your joints.
Other Risk Factors for OA
Other than obesity, risk factors for OA include:
- Getting older
- Being female
- Injuring your joint, even if it was a long time ago
- Repeated joint stress through sport or work
- A genetic tendency towards OA
- Being born with improperly formed joints or cartilage
- Diseases like diabetes and hemochromatosis (too much iron).
How Do You Treat Osteoarthritis
We can’t reverse or cure osteoarthritis so the goal of treatment is to reduce your pain and improve your joint function. This usually involves physiotherapy, medication and, in some cases, surgery.
The right mix of treatment depends on your particular needs but you might benefit from:
- Losing weight (if you’re above a healthy BMI) to reduce inflammation in your body and pressure on your joints
- Exercises tailored to your medical needs and physical ability
- Paracetamol and ibuprofen to help reduce pain
- Devices to support and align your body, such as braces, orthotics or walking sticks
- Joint replacement surgery if nothing else is working.
How Can Physiotherapy Help Osteoarthritis?
Physiotherapy plays an important role in the management of osteoarthritis.
Your physio can assess your condition and your broader health and wellbeing then prescribe a program of exercises designed to:
- Strengthen your bones
- Improve your balance to prevent fall injuries
- Reduce pain
- Improve function.
- Your physio can also recommend assistive devices to help your condition.
How can Sycamore Health help?
Here at Sycamore Health, we treat many patients dealing with osteoarthritis in one or more joints.
If your joints are hurting, then please come to see us. We’d love to help.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.