Osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, occurs when the protective cartilage on the end of bones breaks down and no longer protects and cushions the bones in the joints. It is a progressive, degenerative disease that worsens overtime and is not reversible. It is also the most common chronic join condition and an inevitable part of ageing, effecting 10% of the adult population, 50% of people over 60 years old, and 85% of people 85 years and over. However, there are ways to delay the onset, and manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis predominantly occurs in the weight-bearing joints (knees, hips, ankles and spine) and the joint of the fingers, and is usually symmetrical (occurs in both knees, both hands etc.)

  • Gradual onset of pain with acute with “flare-ups”
  • Stiffness & reduced range of motion, especially after prolonged rest/sitting
  • Swelling, usually associated with flare-up, can be ongoing.
  • Crepitus – audible creaking and crunching/grinding sensation
  • Functional loss due to pain, muscle wasting and/or changes in the joint as the disease progresses

Disease process

  • Erosion of articular cartilage in the joints
  • Narrowing of the joint space
  • Exposure of bone and nerve endings due to cartilage loss
  • Cartilage fragments may dislodge into the synovial fluid, interfering with movement
  • Formation of osteophytes (spurs) and cysts as the body tries to repair itself
  • Chronic inflammation that results in scarring and stiffening of the joint capsule

Osteoarthritis causes and risk factors

Anything that increase the load on the joints and cartilage can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

  • Age – incidence is higher – in people of 45 years old
  • Family history of osteoarthritis
  • Being overweight or obese (BMI* over 25) increases the load placed on the joints, and
  • Cartilage damage from a previous trauma/injury
  • Repetitive force to the joints (i.e. sport, manual labour)

Osteopathic treatment and management

Your osteopath can perform an examination to properly diagnose the condition. Your osteopath can also:

  • Perform osteopathic treatment of stiff joints and associated muscle tension/spasm during flare ups
  • Provide advice on posture and pain relief.
  • Prescribe mobility exercises and stretching
  • Provide education & identify activities or other factors that may contribute to flareups
  • Provide guidance on medications and supplements that may provide relief
  • Provide regular treatments to help maintain musculoskeletal flexibility
  • Identify severe cases, that may require GP referral and surgical review for joint replacement surgery.

What you can do

  • Ensure good desk ergonomics
  • Maintain good posture
  • Invest in a supportive mattress and pillow
  • Choose supportive footwear – low heel, cushioning sole
  • Always use correct lifting technique
  • Weight loss (if applicable) – keep your BMI* 25 or below, and waist circumference below 80 cm (women) or 90 cm (men).
  • Gentle, non-weight bearing exercise (cycling, swimming, cross-trainer)
  • Maintain mobility in the spine with daily stretching and mobility exercises as prescribed by your osteopath
  • Apply heat, except during flare-ups
  • Rest (when flareups occur)
  • Supplement your diet with glucosamine sulphate. Glucosamine is a component of many joint tissues. Oral supplementation with glucosamine as sulphate has been shown to improve joint pain and function and reduce cartilage loss1,2.

What to avoid

  • Avoid engaging in the activities that aggravate or cause your osteoarthritis to flare up
  • Do not apply heat or heat creams during a flare up.
  • Do not engage in high-impact, weight-bearing, repetitive activities.
  • Do not lift heavy weights or commence weight training without professional guidance
  • Avoid lifting

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