Osteoarthritis (OA) is a leading cause of pain and disability worldwide. If you are currently living with OA of the Hip and Knee, you are not alone. The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Survey found that knee and hip OA were responsible for 17 million years lived of disability worldwide.
In New Zealand we don’t manage our osteoarthritis very well and many people tend to live with unnecessary pain and loss of quality of life. But things are changing and we are on a mission to help you manage this condition better.
Here are 5 tips for managing your OA hip or knee (you can apply similar principles to other joints):
- How important is pain relief?– Maintaining aerobic fitness, maintaining strength and avoiding weight is good for joint health. However if the pain level from a joint is significant then it will impair your exercise ability. Learn how to use medication best to manage pain. Talk to you pharmacist about any interactions with other medications you are taking and how best to use pain relief and anti-inflammatory. You will need to understand how to manage pain relief during acute episodes or flares.
- If the joint is sore when I stretch is that bad? Osteoarthritis is often referred to as a wear and tear problem but this is untrue. The most common risk factors include obesity, family history, being female and significant or poorly managed injury in the past. Maintaining good flexibility and joint range keeps the joint surface healthy. Following joint injury there is usually swelling and stiffness. When this settles the joint range may continue to be restricted. If this stays stiff over a period the joint develops bony spurs at the margins (early osteoarthritis changes). One of the easiest ways to look after joints is to maintain range and restore range after an episode of swelling. It is not uncommon for an old ankle injury which has been poorly rehabilitated to contribute to bony joint changes in adjacent hip, knee, foot joints because of altered patterns of movement or compensation for the ankle stiffness.
- Should I strengthen if it is painful? When you have joint pain the tendency is to avoid pain. This leads to de-conditioning and weakness which ultimately leads to no improvement in pain but a tendency to put on weight increasing the loads. And the cycle continues. Maintaining leg strength is essential for avoiding this trap. Exercise is good for joints and doesn’t increase osteoarthritis. You may need to vary the exercise if you are having a flare but it is essential you maintain good strength.
- What should I do when I a having a flare? Have a recipe of what to do when you have acute pain. this might be that you up your medication, rest from aggravating activities initially for up to 48 hours maximum, then start working to get joint mobility back by stretching the joint to end range positions, and finally get back to strength exercises. As above you should aim to restore the joint movement as soon as possible.
- Does being overweight make a difference? Obesity is a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. For obese people every 5kg of weight gain relates to a 36% increase in the risk of osteoarthritis. Reduction in weight by 5-10 % has been shown to reduce pain significantly. Even though you may experience some pain at first exercising it is highly likely that 6 weeks later you will be feeling less pain.
Physiotherapists are experts managing osteoarthritis. Don’t make osteoarthritis a life sentence. There is plenty of life to be enjoyed with the right conditioning and preparation.