Osteoarthritis (OA) refers to a condition where the joint becomes painful and stiff. This is often because the gliding, protective surfaces of the joint (known as cartilage) become less smooth and this causes a reaction in the body.
As we get older our joints and the muscles & ligaments that surround them become more susceptible to degeneration, often as a result of the stresses and strains they have withstood throughout our lifetime.
Previous injuries may also mean our joints no longer function as well as they used to. The joints commonly affected by OA are the hips, knees, lower back and hands. Many people will experience symptoms in one or more of these areas as they get older.
Osteoarthritis is very common in the UK affecting over 9 million people.
Some people can have OA symptoms at a young age, but it is more common in people over the age of 65. OA has been shown to be more common in women. Obesity is also a risk factor associated with the onset of arthritis.
People with arthritis often complain of a gradual onset of pain, especially when putting weight through the joint. The joint may feel stiff, especially in the morning. During a flare up may look quite swollen.
Many people think OA/joint pain is untreatable and that it will only get worse – this is not correct. Whilst getting rid of joint pain completely is unlikely, there is a lot you can do to reduce pain and maximise your ability to do what you want, living with OA.
Joints that carry a lot of weight through them can often be more painful. Maintaining a healthy body weight by eating a balanced diet will really help to reduce the symptoms that come with OA.
Your GP may advise you to have an X-ray of a particular joint to look for signs of OA.
It is important to note that sometimes X-ray results do not always match up with how you feel. You can have minimal changes on an X-ray picture but actually experience a lot of pain.
Equally you can have quite severe OA changes on an X-ray but not be in much pain, sometimes have no pain at all! Each of us are different and that can make our experience of pain very different.
It is really important to keep moving and maintain muscle strength around the joints. When changes happen in the joint, the body tries to adapt and can react with an inflammatory process. This is normally what causes the pain and stiffness. Moving your joints helps to distribute the fluid and lubricate the joint, which is why we stiffen up when we stay still for too long.
Physiotherapy has been identified by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as one of the main treatment options for OA.
The initial focus of physiotherapy is to help you to understand your problem, and to guide you on how to manage it more effectively yourself.
Alongside the educational element, our priority is also to help you regain normal day to day activities and to improve the strength of the muscles.
Research evidence has shown Physiotherapy to be very effective at reducing the symptoms related to OA and even prevent further degenerative changes by keeping you using your joints as normally as possible, if guidance is followed.
If you would like some more guidance on exercising with arthritis, speak to your GP about being referred to Physiotherapy.
If you would like to find out more about our exercise and education sessions at London Road Community Hospital for OA of the knee and/or hip, visit our escape pain programme page > .
Here are some examples of exercises that can help to strengthen the knee and hip. You may experience some discomfort whilst performing some of the exercises and this may persist for some time after finishing them. How much and how long the pain lasts for is something you will discuss with your physiotherapist, but usually if the pain and the length of the time the pain lasts for is acceptable to you, then it’s fine. The pain you may experience after the exercises does not mean you are damaging anything.