Arthritis, in particular osteoarthritis, is one of the main causes of pain and disability that we see in the clinic. It can be extremely restricting and sometimes results in a significant intervention like a joint replacement. But there are lots of ways to manage the symptoms and lead a very active lifestyle, despite having osteoarthritis.
What is osteoarthritis?
As with many structures and organs around the body, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in our joints can wear out. As it breaks down more and more, the underlying bone can be exposed. At this stage, it is classed as osteoarthritis. This is a perfectly normal age-related process and lots of us have significant changes without knowing. So it is definitely not the end of the world to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA).
What should I do?
Unfortunately, there is no one-off treatment that can resolve OA, so it’s a case of finding things that work for you. Here are a few ideas:
Our bodies, including our joints, even if they are a bit worn, are designed to be used and loaded. The key is finding the right exercise/activity and persevering with it. There are rarely shortcuts, unfortunately! Historically, running was always thought to be a no for people with arthritis. But recent studies have shown the joints can actually adapt to the loading very well. So don’t write off running if you enjoy it and can tolerate it. Other things like cycling and swimming are usually very manageable. Walking long distances with walking poles can also be very effective. We would always promote strength training as well.
One of the biggest factors in OA is your weight. Managing your weight can be very difficult, especially if you are in pain. But controlling your calories and, if possible, working towards a calorie deficit so that you might lose some weight, should be a priority if you have OA.
We know that there is a significant inflammatory process associated with OA. So using medication to help with inflammation and pain (as guided by your GP) can be very effective.
Like with medication, some foods provide anti-inflammatory qualities. So consider things like spinach, raspberries, avocado, sweet potato, oily fish, artichokes, turmeric and extra-virgin olive oil a key part of your diet.
There are lots of studies showing the negative effects of poor sleep on general wellbeing and perception of pain. So getting your 7-8 hours of sleep is really important. It helps us to recover, regenerate, relax and rebuild and can easily be neglected.
Seek help if you are struggling with joint pain. If things are left, it reduces the options for treatment and can mean that the improvements can take longer. Getting early input is essential.
We have a huge amount of experience treating patients with osteoarthritis here at Bridge Health & Wellbeing in Christchurch, Dorset. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to speak to one of the team on 01202 473800.
Paul O’Connell (MSC, BSC, HCPC, MCSP) is a physiotherapist with two decades of clinical expertise. He has worked right across the UK, from North Yorkshire and London to Hampshire and Dorset. Sports medicine is one of his areas of special interest: he has worked both on the touchline and in sports injuries clinics. Having spent several years managing physiotherapy and health assessment teams in two key Nuffield Health hospitals, Paul also has an extensive understanding of orthopaedic surgery.