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Rethinking Osteoarthritis - Not a Life Sentence

Osteoarthritis sufferer holding wrist

Osteoarthritis is very common. Indeed, more than half of adults over the age of 60 are affected to some degree! Increasing age is not the only cause for it, other factors like obesity, general health, or taking part in high-impact sports can also play a role, and therefore we also see it in the younger population. Pain, stiffness and loss of function are what patients usually present with - often in knees, hips and spines, hands, but really any joint in the body can be affected.

The term osteoarthritis is rather misleading as many cases of osteoarthritis have no or minimal amount of inflammation associated with them unlike rheumatoid arthritis where the inflammatory changes can lead to gross deformities. Therefore osteoarthritis was renamed osteoarthrosis, though is referred to as a "degenerative condition" or "joint wear and tear". However it is important for patients to know that osteoarthritis isn’t necessarily a progressive and disabling condition. Many studies have shown that the severity of the pain often does not reflect how severe the wear of the joint is on radiographic imaging.

Many people have been shown to have severely damaged hip, knee and spinal joints and no pain. On the other hand, other people have had very minor damage and experienced excruciating pain.

This means that the experience of pain does not solely depend on the amount of physical damage in a joint, but includes your personal beliefs, interpretations, feeling/emotions, social context and more. When seeing patients affected by Osteoarthritis it is therefore essential to consider the greater environment of the joint within the body and the individual's psychological and social aspects rather than solely focusing on the area affected by pain.

Here are a few things you can do to start managing your arthritis:

1. Find a physical activity you love to do

Maintaining physical activity has been shown to be one of the most important factors in managing osteoarthritis. Contrary to what many people think, the right kind of exercise is good for osteoarthritis. Engaging in an exercise program and the right kind of activity helps the joint regulate its fluid content and keeps the surrounding muscles strong. Your osteopath or physio can advise on what is appropriate, but the key is to find something you enjoy that will keep you motivated.

2. Get some good quality manual therapy

Manual stretching of the surrounding soft tissues and mobilising the joints can be extremely effective in maintaining range of motion and as a measure to reduce swelling and pain, which in turn can allow you to live an active lifestyle. Your osteopath or physio may also advise on self-care techniques such as using heat or cold therapy to ease the discomfort of symptoms during flare ups. Here at the clinic we have also found our K laser to be helpful for certain types of joints manifesting arthritis such as knees, hands etc.

3. Let’s set some goals

Working alongside you, the patient, in a shared decision-making process we look at how to set short and long-term goals that help you manage your pain on a daily basis. This could be as simple as starting a new hobby or returning to work. But the key is to slowly build the level of activity. Too much too soon can see symptoms flare-up unnecessarily. Your osteopath can help guide you through this.

4. Consider your mental as well as physical health

We know that the anticipation of pain can often be worse than the pain itself. We also know that factors such as depression, anxiety and stress can amplify the perception of pain.

How many times you decided to not do an activity you love because of the fear of pain? How did this make you feel psychologically? Take a look at things you enjoy doing, but perhaps you haven't been practicing anymore out of fear and set a plan to gradually get you back at them with your osteopath. Here at the Centre we put wellness first and think this should be a priority. We run regular yoga classes with our lovely Forrest Yoga teacher Kirsty Goddard-Holmes. Our classes are small and Kirsty ensures that whilst her participants are pushed to work hard, that her sessions are safe and tailored to each person’s individual limit.

5. Understand pain

It is crucial to understand that pain is a personal experience that does not always equal the amount of tissue damage. In other words, you may very little wear and tear and a lot of pain, or very damaged joints and hardly any pain. This is because pain is not just the direct result of damage in our body but also depends on our psychological state, the state of our nervous system, our social environment and so on.

So if you have any queries, please give us a call.


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