Osteoarthritis – A Common Chronic Condition but Manageable

Osteoarthritis affects 2.2 million Australians. The condition costs our health system $2.1 billion per year. People with osteoarthritis are frequently provided misinformation via friends, family, social media and other health professionals. Exposure to misinformation changes the decisions people make in relation to their health care and it is our responsibility as physiotherapists to address the misinformation about arthritis.

Here are some key points that we discuss with our patients based on current research to help manage the pain associated with arthritis.Exercise and Osteoarthritis

  1. Exercise and activity are encouraged, not rest.

Advice to rest for a short period of time after a flare up of pain may be appropriate. However, advice to avoid activity in many cases is misdirected and can potentially be harmful. Inactivity and rest makes the pain and osteoarthritis worse, not better, in the longer term. Our joints need movement and exercise to stimulate repair and keep them strong.

  1. Understand imaging findings do not always dictate disability and pain

A large body of current research indicates that pain and damage reported on MRI and X-ray is poorly related in arthritis- in particular arthritis of the knee. Pain is actually our brain’s response to a perceived threat, which motivates us to be protective. Education for our patients in understanding the main drivers of their pain is a key component in our treatment processes.

  1. It is important to manage pain levels during exercise

Pain during exercise is one of the most common barriers, due primarily to fear of damage as noted above. Flare ups of pain are common when starting a new exercise regime, irrespective of what problem a person may have. With persistence though these are shown to decrease over time.

This article is not to dismiss the role of surgery and other treatment options in managing this common chronic condition as in some cases this is a viable option. It is merely to show that our role in treating osteoarthritis is bigger than people may think. Conservative treatments that we offer, mainly exercise and education is an effective tool in helping people reducing their pain and regaining quality of life, no matter how old they are.