Osteoarthritis is a debilitating condition that affects 1.9 million, or one in 12 Australians. And with our ageing and increasingly obese population, this number is set to rise to three million Australians by 2032.
But if you are one of the millions of Australians living with this condition, here is some good news— you may be able to improve your symptoms just by moving more.
Professor Rana Hinman, has conducted extensive research into managing osteoarthritis, and recently received funding from the Medibank Better Health Foundation. Here, she explains how exercise can benefit people with osteoarthritis, and shares her advice on getting started.
How exercise can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis
In addition to the well-known benefits that exercise can have on our overall health--research shows that exercise can reduce pain, improve physical function and improve health-related quality of life for those living with osteoarthritis.
Professor Rana Hinman agrees that people with osteoarthritis who have commenced, and stuck with, an exercise program, consistently report an improvement in symptoms.
“People find they are able to perform their usual daily activities much more easily, and with less pain, than before they started exercising. This often means they are able to start doing again, or keep doing, the things that really matter to them. Whether it’s playing golf on the weekend or playing actively with their kids or grandchildren.”
“Often, people also report big improvements in their confidence to self-manage their symptoms. This helps contribute to a much more positive and hopeful outlook for their future.”
Perhaps most importantly, Professor Hinman says that many people report that exercise gives them the chance to avoid surgery.
“People often want to avoid surgery if possible and many people report that exercise gives them the chance to do that- or at the very least, delay surgery for as long as possible.”
Which types of exercise are best?
While there is no clear evidence that one type of exercise is better than another, muscle strengthening is vital.
Professor Hinman explains that one of the consequences of osteoarthritis is weakened muscles--which makes it much harder to do things such as climb stairs and get in and out of chairs and cars easily. It can also make our joints feel unstable and feel like they may give way during weight-bearing activities.
She also notes that increasing general physical activity levels is important too, so it’s a good idea to take part in walking programs, and come up with creative ways to reduce sitting still.