Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint disease and one of the leading causes of pain and disability in Australia and globally. More than 2.2 million Australians live with osteoarthritis.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Although often described as ‘wear and tear’ it is now thought to be the result of a joint working extra hard to repair itself. (1)
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but occurs most often in the knees, hips, hands, fingers, spine and big toe. It can develop at any age but tends to be more common in people over 40 years old or those who have had joint injuries. People with osteoarthritis may find it difficult and painful to move due to the pain in their joints. More than half of Australians with osteoarthritis reporting experiencing moderate to very severe pain. (2)
What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis symptoms often develop slowly and may worsen over time. Symptoms can also vary depending on which joints are affected.
The most common symptoms include:
- Pain - Your joint may also hurt during or after movement. Affected joints may get swollen, especially after lots of activity.
- Stiffness - Joint stiffness may be most noticeable when first thing in the morning or after resting.
- Tenderness - Your joint may feel tender when you apply light pressure to it.
- Loss of flexibility - You may not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
- Clicking or cracking sensation - You may hear or feel a grating sensation when you use the joint, especially in the knees.
- Bone spurs - These are extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, and may form around the affected joint.
What are the risk factors of osteoarthritis?
Factors that may increase your risk of osteoarthritis include:
- Age – the risk of osteoarthritis increases as you get older, due to weaker muscles or joints that may have become worn out.
- Gender – women are at higher risk than men.
- Obesity – being obese puts extra stress on your joints, especially those that bear most of your weight, like your knees and hips.
- Joint injury – injuries or accidents, such as those that occur when playing sports, may increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
- Joint overuse – if your job or activities includes activities that place repetitive stress on a particular joint, that joint may eventually develop osteoarthritis.
- Family history – osteoarthritis may run in some families.
- Bone deformities – some people are born with malformed joints or defective cartilage which can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
- Other conditions like secondary arthritis – sometimes osteoarthritis can occur in joints badly damaged by an existing condition like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
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With an ageing and increasingly obese population, the number of people affected by osteoarthritis in Australia is projected to soar. The number of Australians aged 65 and over is expected to increase rapidly, from 13% of the population in 2002 to 25% in 2042. (3) And almost one-quarter of children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, with rates continuing to rise. (4)
On the 27th of November, The National Osteoarthritis Strategy was launched in Canberra, with the aim of combating the soaring rates of osteoarthritis in Australia.
Lose weight and exercise right to prevent and manage osteoarthritis
Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) member Matt Williams, who contributed to the National Osteoarthritis Strategy implementation committee, says it focuses on both preventing and treating osteoarthritis by reducing obesity rates and increasing physical activity levels, ensuring non-surgical care is the first line of treatment for sufferers.
“The simplest thing we can do is the most effective to treat osteoarthritis – get moving and lose weight. I’ve worked with patients who have lost as little as five to 10% of their body weight and seen great improvements in their osteoarthritis symptoms, particularly their pain levels, and their motivation to continue exercising is greatly improved as a result. The more they exercise - using the right techniques, education and supervision - the better they do.”
Facts and myths about knee osteoarthritis
Losing weight and doing the right exercises helps knee osteoarthritis. But some people mistakenly think that they shouldn’t exercise. So here are some facts and myths about knee osteoarthritis from GLA:D Australia.
20% of people do not get any pain relief from knee joint replacement.
Rest and avoidance makes pain worse.
Exercise is safe and helps.
Pain does not necessarily mean damage.
The degree of arthritis predicts your pain.
Only surgery will fix arthritis.
Exercise is dangerous.
Pain equals damage.
Rest is helpful.
Get help from Inspiro’s physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and dietitians
Inspiro’s physiotherapists and exercise physiologists treat and manage joint and muscle pain to get you moving again. They can tailor exercises especially for your needs. Our dietitians help you lose weight and keep it off through healthy eating and nutrition.
GLA:D – A program to help people with osteoarthritis move more freely
The physiotherapists at Inspiro run a program for people with osteoarthritis called GLA:D, which is contributing to a research program run by LaTrobe University.
GLA:D (Good Life with osteoarthritis in Denmark) is an education and exercise program developed by researchers in Denmark for people with hip or knee arthritis symptoms. The education and exercises provided can be applied to everyday activities. Participants learn to move their bodies properly, strengthen their bodies, reduce pain and prevent symptoms from progressing.
Research from the GLA:D program in Denmark shows symptom progression reduces by 32%. Other outcomes include less pain, reduced use of joint related pain killers, and increased levels of activity 12 months after starting the program.(5)
The GLAD program includes:
- 2 education sessions
- An exercise session twice a week for 6 weeks
At the end of the program, we aim for you to see a reduction in pain and in increase in your capacity to move more freely.
For more information or to book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists call 9028 0153
(1) Arthritis Australia
(2), (3) National Osteoarthritis Strategy, National Osteoarthritis Strategy Project Group, November 2018.
(4) A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia, 24 November 2017, Australian Government Institute of Health and Welfare.
(5) GLA:D Australia