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Osteoarthritis explained

osteoarthritis explained

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition mostly affecting the joints such as hips, knees and ankles.

Osteoarthritis very common in Australia – in fact, it affects 1.9 million, or one in 12 Australians and is the nation’s leading causes of chronic pain and disability. The condition is most likely to develop in people aged over 45 years, although it can occur in younger people.

Osteoarthritis can have a debilitating impact on a person’s life. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, compared to those without the condition, people with osteoarthritis are much more likely to report fair or poor health, very high levels of psychological distress and severe pain.

Who is most at risk of osteoarthritis?

A person may be at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis if they are:

  • are overweight or obese
  • have a previous injury, significant trauma or overuse of the joint
  • have a family history of osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary, but the main symptoms include pain, stiffness and limited joint movement which get worse over time.

Normally, healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another. In people with osteoarthritis, the cartilage covering the bone ends in the joints breaks down and wears away, causing the bones to rub together, creating pain, swelling and loss of motion.

According to Arthritis Australia, in addition to sore or stiff joints, some of the common symptoms include:

  • Limited range of motion or stiffness that goes away after movement
  • Clicking or cracking sound when a joint bends
  • Mild swelling around a joint
  • Pain that is worse after activity or toward the end of the day.

Treatment for osteoarthritis

If you think you might have osteoarthritis, your first step should be to visit your GP to discuss your symptoms. Sometimes, they may refer you to a specialist if necessary.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are treatments available to manage symptoms. This may include:

  • Exercise. This is one of the best ways to manage your symptoms. 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.
  • Improving joint mobility and flexibility. Slow, gentle stretching of joints may improve flexibility, lessen stiffness and reduce pain
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight adds additional stress to weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, feet and back.
  • Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medications. Medications are available as pills, syrups, creams or lotions, or they are injected into a joint.
  • Physical and occupational therapy. Therapists can assist by providing advice on ways to properly use joints, heat and cold therapies, range of motion and flexibility exercises and assistive devices.
  • Joint surgery. In some cases surgery might be recommended to repair or replace severely damaged joints, especially hips or knees.

Preventing osteoarthritis

There are also some ways you may be about to reduce your risk of osteoarthritis, these include

  • Exercising safely and sensibly. It helps to strengthen important muscle groups. Just remember, it’s crucial to ensure you are using the correct techniques to limit excessive strain on your joints.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet. This is key for ensuring you avoid placing added strain on the joints through excess weight.
  • Appropriate and supportive footwear:Read more about choosing the right footwear  
  • Protecting your knees. To protect your knees, it’s important you lose any excess weight you might be carrying, and avoid injury by exercising sensibly. Keeping muscles strong — particularly the quadriceps — can also help by reducing strain on the knee

Learn more about osteoarthritis 

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