Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic disease that can affect people of any age. It is a condition that affects the whole joint, including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. OA has multiple, complex causes. Nearly 1 in 5 Australians have arthritis, most of these have OA. It has been a commonly held belief for a while that once you have OA, it is something you are stuck with, and your options are limited. This is simply not true.
OA can occur at any age, but is more common in people over 40, or in cases of people with a history of joint injury.
Currently there is no cure for osteoarthritis, that’s why this blog post of tips for managing your OA exists – there is plenty you can do to manage your OA!
This post is designed to give you some straight forward, easy to use tips about managing your osteoarthritis as well as you can. If you are looking for more help and support, there is a link at the end of this post if you want to get in touch, or learn more about our Osteoarthritis Management Program and what we do.
Maintain a healthy body weight
Maintaining a healthy bodyweight is a critical part of successfully managing your osteoarthritis. Even moderate reductions in your bodyweight will make a noticeable difference. Excess bodyweight is simply excess load for your joints to carry around – it isn’t actually helping you.
If you are already at a healthy body weight, that’s great! Your challenge is to stay at or around your healthy body weight.
Even a 5% decrease in body weight can noticeably reduce the symptoms of knee OA. A dietitian can be an excellent health professional to see for help and support to lose weight safely and healthy eating.
The stronger you are the better. A stronger you means your muscles help more and your joints are loaded less. Engaging in a regular, progressive, supervised strength program is another piece of the puzzle in your osteoarthritis management.
Your program needs to be developed for you and progressed as you are ready. Simply going to the gym and starting a general exercise program may not be as helpful. In some cases, you could flare your symptoms by doing too much too soon, or incorrect exercise selection.
The fitter you are the better. A fitter you means you will be able to get through your usual daily or weekly routine without undue fatigue. Also, working regularly on your fitness will help you maintain a healthy bodyweight. The aim is to complete at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week.
Looking after your cardiovascular health means less chance of secondary issues developing due to inactivity.
Once again, you will need help from an experienced practitioner, such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who is experienced in treating people with osteoarthritis. Your program needs to be developed for you and progressed as you are ready.
You may need to start with shorter exercise times initially, and not increase your training load too quickly.
Focus on function (not your imaging results!)
Osteoarthritis is a diagnosis, not a sentence – while you may have just learned that you have OA, there is plenty you can do to help self-manage. A diagnosis of OA also doesn’t necessarily mean surgery either, if you rush off to see your GP or a surgeon they will want you to complete a period of physiotherapy first to see if you can successfully manage without surgery.
It’s important to focus on what you can do, and how well you can do it. While you have probably had imaging such as X-Ray or MRI to confirm your diagnosis, this is only showing the condition of your joints and other structures.
Imaging tells you nothing about your FUNCTION and what you can actually do.
If you commence a program of management that helps improve your function and symptoms, remember –
YOUR IMAGING RESULTS HAVE. NOT. CHANGED.
Some people successfully manage their OA throughout their whole life, never needing surgery. However, this means staying at a healthy weight, exercise regularly – including strength training and doing this CONSISTENTLY for the rest of your life.
A team approach to management is best
In order to get the best support to help you manage your osteoarthritis, there will (ideally) be a few practitioners involved in your care. This includes, but is not limited to;
- Your GP
- Exercise Physiologist
- Orthopaedic Surgeon
Your GP will often be your first point of contact and will be important in helping educate you about OA and helping you make informed decisions about your care and management.
There is no single practitioner that can help you manage your OA successfully – although you may spend more time with some practitioners than others! Helping you manage your OA successfully is a team effort, and everyone has a role to play in helping you. Good practitioners will also communicate with each other about your care and management. Your GP, surgeon and physio for example should be talking to each other to make sure they all understand what help you need to successfully manage your OA.
Learn about osteoarthritis – Education will help you make informed decisions about your care
Be an active participant in your management, learning as much as you can about OA and how it can be effectively managed is important.
The more you learn about OA, the more involved you can be in your own care and the more informed your decision making will be about the best treatment options for YOU.
No 2 cases of OA are the same – just because a friend of yours had surgery and it “fixed” them is great. It doesn’t mean that surgery is the best course of action for you right now.
Equally, that guided steroid injection someone else had that magically got rid of their pain and symptoms doesn’t mean you will get the same result.
There is no finish line
Successfully managing your OA is an ongoing process – any of our “success stories” (clients that have had awesome results in managing their OA) had 1 common theme in their success – CONSISTENCY OVER TIME.
This is an ongoing commitment to looking after yourself for the rest of your life. Getting access to a team of health professionals that are experienced in helping people who have OA is critical.
Successfully managing your OA is a package deal; healthy eating, keeping your weight down, exercising regularly – including strength training and working with a team of healthcare professionals are all important pieces of the puzzle.
Looking for some help?
We have an Osteoarthritis Rehabilitation Program this is a specific program that offers i) Pre Surgery ii) Post Surgery and iii) Osteoarthritis Management. If you are looking for help in managing your OA, we would love to help you.
About the Author
Scott is the practice principal and owns the clinic with his wife Sandy, who is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. He is a dual titled Sports Physiotherapist and Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, as well as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.
Scott has over 18 years’ experience in both elite sport and with everyday people, he spent 2011 & 2102 as the Rehabilitation Coordinator and Sports Physiotherapist for the Adelaide Crows. Prior to this Scott has worked with many teams and individuals including;
- Adelaide Football Club
- Australian Sevens Team
- International Rugby Board
- Australian Women’s Ice Hockey Team
- ACT Brumbies
Both the physiotherapy and exercise physiology services are overseen by Scott. In addition to teaching the private courses offered here at the clinic, Scott has taught on undergraduate and post graduate courses for physiotherapy and exercise and sports science. He has also been a regular presenter for Sports Physiotherapy Australia on the Level 2 Sports Physiotherapy Course.
In 2014 he was awarded the title of Clinical Fellow of Australian Catholic University for both physiotherapy and exercise physiology.
About the clinic
Bounce Physiotherapy | Bounce Exercise Clinic is a physiotherapy and exercise physiology private practice based in Drummoyne, Sydney.
Established in the Inner West of Sydney since 2003 our business has provided services across the spectrum from injury treatment and known pathology to improving your general health and wellbeing, or athletic & sports conditioning. Whatever your needs are we can help you get there. Bounce Physiotherapy | Bounce Exercise Clinic offers both clinical services and fitness services for our clients.