Tips & treatments for joint pain from osteoarthritis
Joint pain is an extremely common cause of reduced function and disability. This article explains how to identify and address one of the most common causes of joint pain, osteoarthritis. However, it is recommended that you consult your general practitioner or physiotherapist, should you be experiencing any joint pain symptoms to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
WHAT IS A JOINT?
The proper term for the word joint is articulation and is the location where two or more bones make contact. The role of a joint is either to allow movement or limit excessive movement. There are several different types of joints depending on their function. At the end of the bones where the joint is located is a substance known as cartilage, which is soft and slippery and allows the bones to glide over each other. It also acts as a shock absorber when you put weight through your joints, for example when you run or jump.
WHY DO JOINTS BECOME PAINFUL?
There are many different conditions that can cause joint pain, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout and soft
tissue strains and sprains.
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joint and is used to describe many painful conditions affecting joints. The most common is known as osteoarthritis (OA). Today I am looking specifically at OA. For more information on the other forms of arthritis click here.
OA is a disease that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. The top layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away which allows the bony surfaces of adjoining joints to rub together. Over time the bone may also lose its normal shape and grow bony spurs. Together this leads to a decrease in the joint’s range of motion and inflammation of the tissues around the joint.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF OSTEOARTHRITIS?
It tends to come on slowly, over months or even years. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness, particularly after getting out of bed or after sitting for a long time. Sometimes the joints will swell and often there is a crunching or grating feeling. Symptoms can gradually worsen to the point of significant limitation with daily activities. An X-ray may show the narrowing of the gap between your joints and any bony spurs. Your GP will diagnose OA based on your symptoms, X-ray result and their physical assessment.
WHAT TREATMENT IS AVAILABLE?
The treatment for OA will depend on which joint/s are affected and the severity of your condition. The conservative option is often trialled first, with the goal of minimising pain and maximising function, using the skills of a physiotherapist in conjunction with medication prescribed by the GP. Joint supportive compression garments can also aid in symptom relief and improve function. Joint replacement surgery is the last resort when your symptoms can no longer be managed conservatively. The most common joint replacements are of hips and knees.
A PHYSIOTHERAPIST CAN HELP
Being overweight plays a major role in the development of OA and significantly exacerbates the symptoms. A physiotherapist will guide you through safe and appropriate exercises to aid weight loss while minimising pain in the affected joint/s, with a particular focus on nonweight bearing exercise such as swimming or cycling.
There are also joint specific exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles supporting the arthritic joint that a physiotherapist will guide
THE MOST COMMON FORM OF JOINT PAIN IS OSTEOARTHRITIS WITH PAIN, STIFFNESS & INFLAMMATION
THE TREATMENT GOAL IS TO MINIMISE PAIN AND MAXIMISE FUNCTION OF THE JOINT
you through. click here for an information sheet regarding physical activity and OA.
Another major role of a physiotherapist is in the rehabilitation after joint replacement surgery. It is important to be up and moving on the days immediately following surgery to obtain the best outcome for the new joint.
• Be pro-active and aim to stay within a healthy weight range to minimise excessive load through your joints to help delay the onset of OA.
• Exercises can help to strengthen the muscles supporting your joints. If you are unsure where to start, see a physiotherapist for an individual program that you can do at home or join a group clinical Pilates class.
• There are many different conditions that can cause joint pain other than OA, therefore it is important to see your GP or physiotherapist for an accurate diagnosis and management plan.
Phebe Corey is a physiotherapist and the founder of Articfit-Joint supportive compression wear. Phebe was a semi-finalist in The Australian Women’s Weekly Women of the Future competition in 2015, for her brand and vision of empowering women to stay active. Phebe may be contacted here.