What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the joints. In Osteoarthritis the surfaces of the joints become worn and don’t move as smoothly as they used to. Osteoarthritis is often referred to as “wear and tear”.
What happens to a joint that has osteoarthritis?
- When a joint develops osteoarthritis the cartilage, which covers the ends of the joints, becomes thin and roughened.
- Bone lying underneath the cartilage then reacts by getting broader and thicker.
- Bony spurs called osteophytes may develop at the edges of the bone.
- The synovium (the inner surface of the capsule of the joint) can swell and produce extra fluid, causing the joint to swell up.
- The joint capsule and ligaments gradually get thicker and contract.
These changes are partly the body’s response to inflammation and partly its way of trying to repair and protect itself. Our bodies are very clever and can often adjust to the changes caused by osteoarthritis, which means that the pain is minimal or may come and go. However, sometimes the body can’t adapt effectively and the osteoarthritis progresses, potentially causing more pain, as the joint becomes subjected to abnormal loading.
What are the symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
The main symptoms of Osteoarthritis are joint pain and stiffness. Some people have “early morning stiffness,” which is pain and stiffness first thing in the morning or after a period of inactivity, which eases as they get going with some gentle movement. Other people find that the pain gets worse as the day goes on, due to their increased activity levels, loading the joint. Sometimes joints can sound clicky and crunchy. You may also find that the shape of the joint changes a bit. Occasionally, joints such as the knee can give way, either as the joint has become less stable or as the muscles have got weaker.
What are the causes of Osteoarthritis?
- Age – Osteoarthritis is more common as we get older but getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get osteoarthritis.
- Gender – Gender also plays a role, for example Osteoarthritis of the knee is twice as common in women than men.
- Increased weight – Being overweight increases the chances of Osteoarthritis in weight bearing joints such as the knee and makes it more likely that the osteoarthritis will get progressively worse.
- Previous injury – Injuries to joints can lead to osteoarthritis in later life.
- Genes – Our genes also play a role, for example if you have a sibling with osteoarthritis of the knee, you’re much more likely to get it yourself.
- Other joint diseases – diseases which cause damage to the joint, can also lead to osteoarthritis.
How is Osteoarthritis diagnosed?
Osteoarthritis can be diagnosed by examination from a doctor or Physiotherapist and can then be confirmed by x-ray, which will show the severity of the osteoarthritis. However, really it’s how the osteoarthritis affects your life and your examination findings that help us to know how best to help you.
What can I do look after my joints?
Keep your weight within a healthy range. Check your body mass index (BMI) for an indication on whether or not you need to reduce your weight. So far, no specific diet has been shown to particularly help those with osteoarthritis, the best advice is just to eat a balanced, calorie controlled diet and combine these good eating habits with regular exercise.
Exercise is vital – if you have osteoarthritis it is essential to keep moving! Most people with Osteoarthritis find that too little exercise causes them to get stiff, while too much can be painful. Find what you can do without flaring up your symptoms and then see if you can gradually build it up. Step counters are fab as they help you to monitor your activity levels, learn your limits and gradually increase your exercise levels. Strengthening exercises help to support and protect the joints and can help to reduce pain. Aerobic exercise, exercise that gets your heart rate up, is important for your general health and helps you to feel good by boosting your endorphins (your happy, pain-relieving hormones).
Pace your activities of daily living. This means breaking them up throughout the day rather than doing everything physically challenging in one hit, causing you to pay for it later. Think little and often, slow and steady, rather than boom, bust and ouch.
Take off your heels and swap them for supportive shoes or trainers. This will take the strain out of your hips, knees, ankles, feet and toes and will definitely make you feel more comfortable, if you have osteoarthritis affecting any of the joints in your legs.
Use a walking stick if you need to as this can help to reduce the strain on any painful joints in the legs. A physio can provide you with a stick that’s the right height and will show you how to use it properly.
Try using ice to manage pain and swelling but never put it directly on your joint, wrap it in a towel and then put it on your sore joint for 10-15 minutes. If ice isn’t for you and pain rather than swelling is more of an issue, perhaps try a hot pack, again wrapped in a towel, as some people find this brings short term pain relief.
Relax; being stressed, uptight and worrying about things is known to make pain from any cause worse. Doing relaxation exercises can be really useful in managing pain, helping you to feel in control of your symptoms.
Find a physio! Your Physiotherapist can examine you, not only to give you a diagnosis but also to show you the best exercises for you to do. We are all different so one exercise programme never fits all. They can design a programme as unique as you are, taking on board your specific problems, lifestyle and needs. They can also look at how you walk and move and may suggest ways that you could move better, off-loading your joints and reducing your pain.
Depending on which joints are affected, they can also let you know if orthotics might be helpful, as sometimes putting something in your shoe, can, for example, reduce some of the strain on the inside of your knee.
Obviously we know a few excellent physios so call us today if you’d like to book an appointment 01245 505 866.