What is Osteoarthritis?


The start of a new year is always a great time for reflecting on life and being proactive to make some positive changes. With the colder weather setting in it’s often a time of year when we tend to take more notice of any aches and pains.

As a Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor helping people with pain is a big part of my work and one of my starting points to helping people is educating them about what may be causing their pain.

This month I’m going to be talking about Osteoarthritis which affects 1 in 4 adults.. It can affect any joint but is most common in weight bearing joints such as the hip and knee.

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?

OA is a pattern of wear which affects localised loss of cartilage. This can cause joint pain and stiffness.

How is it diagnosed?

It can be diagnosed by a thorough assessment looking at your pattern of pain, joint movement and palpating the painful area. X-rays and MRI scans can be useful for supporting a clinical assessment.

Is it just older people that can be affected by OA?

It is more common in the elderly population but young to middle aged adults can certainly be affected by it too.

What symptoms do you get with OA?

These can vary from person to person but usually a patient would present with localised swelling, stiffness of the joint particularly after prolonged rest and pain around the affected joint which is often aggravated by increased loading activities such as stairs, walking on inclines/declines or running.

What can I do to help manage OA?

The great news is there’s lots of evidence to support managing OA conservatively. Clinically we use the guidelines outlined by The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) to ensure best practice.

Controlling weight. It is well known that the more weight you carry the more pressure through your joints

Footwear. Supportive cushioned footwear can be helpful or using shock absorbing insoles

Walking aids. To distribute the weight, walking poles (Nordic) or other aids can help offload the joint to allow you to stay active.

Heat/Cold. Some patients find this helpful for pain relief and to reduce swelling. They both improve the circulation to the area and are worth trying.

Exercise. This is key but it is important to choose appropriate exercise. Low impact exercise such as swimming and cycling can make a huge difference to your symptoms. Keeping the core muscles and muscles around the joint strong can be helpful for providing support for the joint.

Should I take medication to help with OA?

The role of medication is to allow you to fulfil a lifestyle you wish to have and also control the pain to allow you to be able to exercise. NICE recommend the use of paracetamol and anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen both orally and in the form of a gel or cream. There is also some evidence

for taking natural supplements. Historically NICE recommended Glucosamine and Chondroitin but this has been replaced by the use of capsaicin. Before taking any form of medication you must consult your healthcare practitioner.

I am lucky to work with Professor Robert Middleton who is a leading hip Orthopaedic Surgeon based in Bournemouth and Poole. As head of The Orthopaedic Research Institute at Bournemouth University, Professor Middleton has worked with a team of researchers on the development of the CHAIN (Cycling against hip pain) programme.

“CHAIN is a six week lifestyle exercise programme for people with arthritic hips. Over 70% of participants improve their symptoms of pain and stiffness. The key for the long term is to do 30 mins of spinning or cycling a day. Doing this you may avoid needing a hip replacement.”

So if one of your new year resolutions is to do something about your aches and pains it’s worth getting a professional assessment, educating yourself and taking positive steps to getting better.

Jason Rubino