By physiotherapist Pat Arnold
OSTEOARTHRITIS refers to the pain and loss of function linked to the degeneration of our joints and is very common in older Australians.
In fact it is more common than both high blood pressure and diabetes.
Thirty per cent of those 50 and older report either knee or hip pain and it is the most common reason people give for not being active as they get older.
There is a real stigma in our community around the implications of being diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
“My knee is stuffed”, “it’s bone on bone”, “eventually I will have to get it replaced” and “there is nothing I can do about it” are all common things I hear when people are talking about their sore knee or hip.
While these statements can be (somewhat) true for those with severe osteoarthritis, unfortunately I also hear it from people who have the potential to really improve with some relatively simple treatment.
If you or someone you know is battling a niggly knee or hip that stops them doing what they want to do, two things they can do that will really help (and don’t involve a general anaesthetic, major surgery and a few nights in hospital) are:
■ Weight loss: Several studies have shown people who have osteoarthritis who manage to lose 10 per cent of their body weight can expect to experience a 50 per cent reduction in pain.
This is huge, there are not many drugs out there that can claim to improve a chronic condition by 50 per cent.
Losing weight can be very challenging at the best of times, let alone when you have a very sore knee or hip that affects your ability to exercise. However getting professional help from your GP, as well as perhaps a dietitian or physiotherapist/ exercise physiologist can give you the tools to success.
■ Neuromuscular exercises: A specific rehabilitation program targeted for you and your level by a physiotherapist can also improve the condition significantly.
The reason exercise helps is multifactorial. Our joint cartilage needs exercise to disperse important maintenance and healing cells throughout the joint, and exercise does this.
Strengthening the muscles around the sore joint also improves stability and function, while also improving both range of motion and confidence in the joint.
At our clinic we have been running the GLA:D program for people with osteoarthritis for the past couple of years (check it out at gladaustralia.com.au).
It is a six-week program designed by researchers in Denmark; which combines education and supervised rehab sessions for those with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
Lots of research into this program has found on average participants experience a 36 per cent reduction in pain, significantly improved function, and many improve to the point that they decide to defer or cancel surgery.
While weight loss and rehab can make a big difference in a person's pain and function, unfortunately some people with severe osteoarthritis do still need to go and have joint replacement surgery.
Interestingly though, joint replacement patients who lose weight and complete a ‘prehab’ strengthening program prior to their surgery recover quicker and have better outcomes for months after surgery.
So really no matter where you are with your osteoarthritic knee, seeing a physio and completing a rehab program would likely be of great benefit.
Pat Arnold, Echuca Moama Physiotherapay on 5480 0860 (Echuca/Rochester) and 5852 1638 (Kyabram).