Osteoarthritis

by Simon Yoon

Joints are comprised of bone, cartilage, ligaments, synovial fluid and a joint capsule. The cartilage is a specialised tissue that lines the surface of the joints to allow for smooth movement and to transmit load effectively with reduced friction. Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease that affects the bone and cartilage within these joints. It is characterised by bone remodelling and degradation of the cartilage surface. These changes can eventually cause inflammation, a reduction in joint space, reduced range of motion, strength loss, swelling, pain, and crepitus (“grinding” sensation).

There are many forms of arthritis, however, osteoarthritis is one of the most prevalent types experienced by many individuals. In fact, 1 in 11 Australians reported to have osteoarthritis in 2017-2018 [1]. The knee, hip, ankle, and spine are commonly affected and occur in those over 50 years old. However, osteoarthritis can also impact individuals at younger ages. Any gender can experience osteoarthritis, although there is a slightly higher percentage of females that are affected.

Risk factors for the development or progression of osteoarthritis are multi-faceted as they include both internal and external factors. Genetics, family history, gender, age, joint biomechanics, trauma, joint injury, obesity, and repetitive joint loading can all influence this particular condition.

“Wear and tear” – This is a phrase we hear passed around frequently these days most likely because it was traditionally used to describe this condition. There is an element of truth to this belief as there is a degree of degradation observed in the joint space. However, the mere presence of osteoarthritic changes do not necessarily mean that a person will experience pain or a reduction in function.

Treatment

There many options for osteoarthritis treatment: physical activity, weight management, lifestyle modifications, medication, and surgery.

“I shouldn’t exercise because it will make it worse”

In fact, exercise is considered as one of the first line methods for managing osteoarthritis. Exercise is an effective method of regaining strength, range of motion, functional capacity, weight management, and pain reduction [1]. Incorporating a combination of aerobic, strength as well as functional training can benefit your physical capabilities, social activities, and mental health. Weight management can be an associated benefit from physical activity but can be assisted through other methods such as dietary modifications. Managing body weight is an important consideration since osteoarthritis is commonly seen in the hips and knees. Both of these are weight-bearing joints which means that our body weight is transferred through these particular joints when we move. A reduction in weight means less force transmitted through the joints.

It is recommended to seek advice from a health professional prior to beginning an exercise regime or other treatments. We would be more than happy to chat to you about using exercise to treat or prevent pain and dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis.

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019, August 30). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/osteoarthritis/contents/treatment-management