Aug 18th, 2014
Author: Christian Fruergaard
What is Osteo Arthritis and how can we help?
Physiotherapy plays an important role in managing arthritis. It can help you to maintain
independence through improving your mobility, strength & flexibility.
Osteo Arthritis (OA) the most common form of Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that
affects about 915000 people in Ireland including 1100 children and that makes it the single
biggest course of disability. Although often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, OA is a
disease and not an inevitable part of the ageing process.
OA causes joint pain and can limit your normal range of motion. When severe, the joint may lose all movement, causing disability in particular when the disease affects the spine, knees, and hips. OA develops progressively over many years, and identifying it in its earliest stages could reduce the impact of the condition. Early identification allows appropriate interventions to prevent or slow the progression of the disease before irreversible joint damage occurs.
Backed by strong research evidence, the treatment of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions is a core function of Physiotherapy practice.
Research indicates that 90% of people will have some type of osteoarthritic changes occurring in their weight bearing joints by the time they are 40 years of age.
While not all of these are symptomatic; OA presents with joint pain and inflammation, these
damaged joints can be irritated at work, during sport or when working at home or in the garden.
Different joints are affected depending on posture, injury, past history and a range of hereditary factors. The most commonly-affected joints are the spine, hip and knee.
Any factor that increases load on the joints increases your risk of OA some contributing factors for OA include:
• Previous joint injury
• Excessive bodyweight
• Performing heavy or repetitive work
• Having poor sitting or standing posture
Symptoms of OA include:
• joint stiffness
• clicking, cracking or grating
• swelling and joint deformity
• pain and stiffness will often be worse in the morning, ease as the joint ‘warms up’ then
deteriorate again with increased activity, or after periods of inactivity, such as sitting for
As the condition progresses and the joint degenerates, the cartilage may wear out completely causing bones to rub against each other with pain more prominent at rest.
Bony spurs may also develop as the OA progresses, potentially causing increased pain and a sensation of the joint ‘locking’ when attempting to move in certain directions. Intermittent flare-ups in arthritic joints are most common because the normal range and function of the joint are disrupted due to damage.
Physiotherapy treatment provides conservative but effective results with even severely damaged arthritic joints. A thorough assessment is vital for treatment prescription.
How can Physio Help?
Physiotherapy has a large part to play in the overall management of arthritis, your Physio is
trained to understand and treat the physical aspects of the human body.
Although OA cannot be cured, there are many treatments that can decrease the symptoms and improve your quality of life.
OA can be well managed by maintenance physiotherapy and a prescribed exercise program.
Aims of Physio treatment for OA include:
• reducing pain
• reducing swelling
• improving movement
• strengthening muscle power
• independence & self management
• reduce further problems
Treatment may include but not limited to:
• Manual therapy Techniques
• Prescription & implementation of specific exercise programmes
• Health promotion
• Managing the impact of co-morbidities
• Self pain management
• heat &/or cold
Other treatment Options:
• Regular paracetamol is an option to help reduce OA pain in the short term.
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also have some symptomatic benefit.
• Glucosamine, Chondroitin and some Omega Oil supplements may be useful in treating OA where there has been a breakdown of cartilage. It is thought that they may relieve the pain and prevent and slow down the cartilage breakdown associated with OA. Research on this has been inconclusive and mainly anecdotal to date.
When is Surgical Intervention the Answer?
A maintenance physiotherapy visit every 4-6 weeks is the most effective method of maintaining joint range and strength. It will also allow the physiotherapist to review, modify and reinforce the prescribed exercises.
The main surgical procedure used in mild to moderate OA is arthroscopy. While joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty) for OA is very common, it is usually undertaken in those with advanced stage disease, when other conservative therapies no longer provide adequate pain relief or functional improvement.
If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to give us a call on 0860368578.