What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common types of arthritis.
It affects the whole joint, including the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. While it can affect any joint, it is most commonly found in the knees, hips, fingers and big toes.
Osteoarthritis involves the breakdown of the cartilage that covers the ends of bones in joints. This causes the bones to rub together, resulting in pain, swelling, and a loss of motion. Because it’s progressive, osteoarthritis tends to get worse over time.
While it can affect people of all ages, the prevalence increases drastically beyond the age of 45. About a third of over-75s experience osteoarthritis.
About 1 in 11 Australians are living with this condition.
What is Osteoarthritis?
When we’re diagnosing a condition we take into account both signs and symptoms.
Symptoms reflect your own personal experience of this condition. Professionals may not be able to see a symptom like fatigue but we know it’s very real and we take it into account when diagnosing and treating your condition.
Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- 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)
- Loss of flexibility – it may be difficult to move the joint through its full range of motion.
- A sign is objective evidence that can be seen by your doctors and physios. We may see signs of OA when we examine you or they may show up in imaging scans.
Signs of OA 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.
Signs and symptoms are a bit like being in love. The feeling is intense, powerful and wonderful but can’t really be seen by anyone. Love leads to obvious signs of care and affection which others can see.
What's the Cause of Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is not a mechanical wear and tear process. Far too many people, including doctors and physiotherapists, believe osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear.
This false belief naturally leads to advising patients to stop walking, running, doing heavy weight training etc. to ‘save’ their joints.
The truth is you need to do the exact opposite! Your physio can recommend exercises that have been demonstrated to be the most effective treatment for early and moderate osteoarthritis of all of our joints.
So, if it’s not wear and tear – what is it?
Osteoarthritis is a biologically mediated inflammatory process...what does that mean I hear you ask?
Inside our joints we have hundreds of powerful chemicals and compounds that are made by certain cells in the synovium (the smooth lining of our joints). When our joints are healthy, these cells naturally respond well to loading and produce more lubricant after exercise. Our joints literally receive a wash in happy healthy chemicals that support cartilage health and nutrition status.
Then a switch might flip… Similar to the changes that lead to other disease states. That biological switch can turn on genes in our DNA responsible for coding for chemicals that are hostile to the health of our cartilage. Over time those chemicals build up and slowly cause cell death in the synovium. This weakens the cartilage and its ability to cushion our joint as they’re loaded. This in turn can lead to swelling, inflammation, heat, and sometimes, pain.
What causes the switch to flip?
This is a more difficult question to answer. What we do know is that it’s not caused simply by wear and tear from exercise! The biological switch may be triggered by code in your DNA. Perhaps your parents have OA so your risk is higher. Perhaps it’s caused by the confluence of factors associated with poor metabolic health (high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes etc.). We know previous injury and/or surgery to the joint, even if these occurred decades earlier, can kickstart a cellular cascade later in life. One bleeding episode in the knee can initiate the process. Meniscus tears (especially when they are surgically removed) can also compound the problem.
We know the presence of harmful chemicals in the joint space actually go down after jogging or weight training. There’s also research to show the health of our cartilage goes up with running; it gets better at moving fluid in and out after the cyclical loading.
If you have been told to rest because you have osteoarthritis, kindly ignore this well-meaning but terrible advice. If you have very severe osteoarthritis, you may need treatment above and beyond exercise alone.
Not only is exercise the best medicine for osteoarthritis, it has a myriad of spillover effects including reducing your risk of dementia, heart disease, managing weight, lowering blood pressure, improving mental health and overall wellbeing.
If you have a degenerative and arthritic joint – it needs to be moved and loaded! You are NOT wearing out your cartilage by walking or running.
Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis
Obesity is a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis because:
- Those extra kilos place greater strain on your larger weight-bearing joints like your knees and hips
- Extra fat tissues produce proteins that cause harmful inflammation in and around your joints.
Other risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
- Previous injuries
- Joint overuse
- Genetics/family history
- Gender (females are more likely to develop osteoarthritis)
- Other medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis
Tell Me About Osteoarthritis Treatment
There’s no cure for osteoarthritis so treatment focuses on reducing pain and improving joint function.
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 ease 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 Sycamore Health Help With Osteoarthritis?
Here at Sycamore Health, we treat many patients dealing with osteoarthritis in one or more joints. We understand the pain it causes and are experienced in helping you manage the condition.
Physiotherapy is one of the most widely recognised treatments for osteoarthritis. Your Sycamore Health 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.
We can also recommend assistive devices to help your condition.
So, if your joints are hurting, please come to see us. We’d love to help.
MAKE A CALL
Why Choose Sycamore Health?
Two Convenient Locations in Morayfield and Sippy Downs: our clinics are ideally located in the heart of Morayfield and Sippy Downs.
Easy online bookings: we offer a straight-forward online booking system so that you can book your appointment in seconds, no matter the time of day.
Same-day appointments: we understand that sometimes you need to be seen by our team as soon as possible, so we keep a number of appointments each day for those who need help urgently.
Private treatment rooms: our treatment is provided one-on-one in private rooms to make sure you are comfortable.
A range of physiotherapy services: we offer a range of physiotherapy services, including hands-on treatment, custom home exercise programs, gym-based rehabilitation and tailored advice.
Qualified, highly-trained physiotherapists: our team of physiotherapists are all highly-skilled and fully qualified.
Customised therapies: we know that your situation is unique and will tailor your program and exercises to suit you.