According to the Australian Physiotherapy Association over 1.2 million Australians suffer from osteoarthritis, and about 80 per cent of these suffer from knee osteoarthritis. It is one of the leading causes of musculoskeletal pain and disability. So what exactly is osteoarthritis and what can be done about it?
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a common chronic condition where cartilage (the protective covering over the ends of your bones) becomes thin and starts to wear away. This cartilage is what stops the bones in your joints from rubbing against each other. Damage to cartilage can cause your joints to:
- Become painful, stiff (particularly in the morning) or swollen
- Look obviously red or feel hot to the touch
- Feel like they might lock up or give way
Sometimes you can have osteoarthritis, and not feel any symptoms at all. The most common sites to feel pain are your hands, spine, hips, and knees. Factors that increase your risk of osteoarthritis include:
- family history
- gender- females have a higher incidence of osteoarthritis
- age- usually affects older people but can sometimes affect younger individuals following an injury
Physiotherapy Can Help
There is a vast amount of evidence that suggests physiotherapy can be helpful in the management of osteoarthritic conditions, particularly of the knee joint. The American College of Rheumatology Subcommittee on osteoarthritis recommends that physiotherapists play a central role in the management of patients with knee joint osteoarthritis. Physiotherapy can:
- reduce pain
- reduce the need for surgical intervention
- improve movement and posture
- strengthen muscles
- improve independent function
- assess and treat biomechanical problems that may exacerbate the pain and loss of function
What Will Treatment Involve
There is good evidence to suggest that manual therapy and exercise therapy both have significant positive effects
on people suffering with osteoarthritis. Manual therapy involves things such as soft tissue massage and joint mobilisations and has been shown to be effective at reducing pain and improving function in the short term and, when combined with exercise, has long term functional benefits.
All clinical guidelines recommend exercise to manage osteoarthritis. There is strong evidence that exercise programs focusing on lower limb strengthening and movement, flexibility, balance, coordination and function, such as those designed and supervised by physiotherapists, result in decreased pain and improved function in management of osteoarthritis of the knee joint. Overall, exercise is as effective in relieving symptoms as are pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, exercise is safer and has fewer side effects. Exercise can include strength training, aerobic exercises such as walking and cycling, aquatic exercises and other forms of exercise such as Tai Chi, balance exercises and stretching.
Exercise programs can be self managed but it is best to have your program implemented and monitored by a health professional. Physiotherapists will conduct a thorough assessment and provide an exercise program tailored to meet the needs of each individual and then monitor your progress. Physiotherapy treatment in the clinic for osteoarthritis combined with a home based exercise program can have you well on your way to doing the things you enjoy most without having to suffer with pain.