I’m sure everyone would have heard the term arthritis used at some stage. Generally when people speak of their arthritis “playing up” they are talking about osteoarthritis. But do you really know what it means?
Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the cartilage at the end of bones. It is a slow and degenerative disease, which sees the cartilage soften, and often the production of extra bits of bony growths known as osteophytes. If the cartilage softens enough it will then begin to wear down the underlying bone, causing joint deformity. The result of this is pain and restricted movements of the affected joints. It is also common for joints above or below the affected joint to become involved as they may take more weight or try to compensate for the loss of movement
The most commonly affected joints are the knees, hips, lower back, and neck, shoulders feet and fingers. If the damage is great enough for an orthopaedic surgeon to deem it ready for surgery then a full or partial joint replacement can be the solution.
It usually takes people a lot of years to progress to this stage and the pain and disability suffered in the meantime can be quite significant. There are, however, a lot of treatment options available to assist in the management of the symptoms.
Your physiotherapist will often perform joint mobilisations to reduce as much of the joint restrictions as possible. You will also be prescribed an exercise and stretching program to maintain or improve the range of movement and muscle strength you have. Our general advice to sufferers is to rest when the joint is painful and restricted but when this reduces you must get in there and actively use the joint to keep it mobile.
If pain is the main problem a lot of people find heat therapy to be beneficial. This may involve the use of a hot water bottle or wheat pack applied to the area or simply soaking in a warm bath. The performance of exercises in a heated pool (hydrotherapy) can also be extremely beneficial because you not only have your body weight supported (hence reducing impact on the painful joints) but you also benefit from the properties of the heat. This is why a great deal of our population over 50 finds it more pleasant to head north over the winter months!
If you do have osteoarthritis it is a good idea to talk to your GP or physiotherapist about the treatment options available to you before surrendering yourself to the pain and physical limitations.