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physiotherapy for osteoarthritis

Have you ever felt stiffness in your joints which usually happens when you wake up in the morning and lasts up to half an hour? Maybe you’ve heard your knees, hips or other joints make a grating or crackling sound when you move. Or, perhaps, your joints are swollen and tender with pain, and the pain only gets worse as you use them. If you find yourself struggling with such discomforts, then you may be suffering from osteoarthritis. Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis can be the perfect treatment to ease down your pain and make your life as pleasant as possible.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a medical condition which causes stiffness and pain in the joints. Although it is the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is just one of around one hundred types of arthritic conditions. Most people experience some form of this condition by the time they reach seventy – for instance – osteoarthritis of the hip, osteoarthritis of the spine or knee osteoarthritis. A less known fact is that osteoarthritis is typically a degenerative joint disease. It occurs when the protective tissue within joints wears down over time and the risk of developing it increases with age.

How Does Osteoarthritis Happen?

Inside the joints, there is a protective tissue called “cartilage”. Cartilage cushions the joint and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. During usual daily activities, joints suffer from a continuous low level of damage. Our bodies have an inherent capacity to repair the damage itself and, therefore, we don’t experience any symptoms most of the time. However, in osteoarthritis, the cartilage on the ends of the bones breaks down and causes pain, swelling, and problems moving the joint. Sometimes, this condition can also affect nearby bones, causing bony growths called bone spurs or osteophytes.

Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis

Even though age seems to be a leading reason for osteoarthritis, not all people’s joints wear down to the degree that requires clinical treatment as people get older. Additional risk factors that can contribute to osteoarthritis are:

  • Genetics
  • Obesity, especially for knee osteoarthritis
  • Sports-related and other joint injuries caused by repeated movements or overuse.
  • Repeated bleeding into the joints
  • Long-lasting inflammation caused by previous rheumatic illness
  • Metabolic disorders.

With specialised mechanical exercises and heat therapeutic treatments, physiotherapy for osteoarthritis can significantly improve the disease symptoms and provide you with a pain-free life.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Half of the people who experience typical usual osteoarthritic symptoms are not aware they have it. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can vary depending on which joint is affected – knees, hips, small joint of the hands, feet or spine.

People with osteoarthritis often have:

  • Limited flexibility
  • Pain related to change of weather
  • Bony lumps at the end or on the middle of joints of fingers
  • Numbness or tingling in an arm or leg.

Pain usually increases with movement and settles with rest. As the condition worsens and the pain becomes more constant and severe, it may make it difficult for the patient to carry out everyday activities.

What Can You Do if You Have Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a long-term condition that can’t be fully cured. But if you are disciplined and regularly follow advice from a licensed physiotherapist, you can manage the pain and maintain the ability to use the affected joints.

Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms can be reduced with:

  • Regular exercise programs
  • Losing weight
  • Wearing appropriate footwear  
  • Using special devices to reduce joint strain

If your symptoms are more severe, you may need painkillers and an exercise plan supervised by a physiotherapist. Some extreme cases of inflammation require that your doctor removes fluid from the joint and inject it with corticosteroids. This treatment should be applied only if indispensable, as overusing this type of drugs can further damage the joints.

When none of the above is helping, surgery may be the best option to repair, strengthen or replace the damaged joint.

How Can Physiotherapy Help with Osteoarthritis?

If you are looking for natural ways to keep osteoarthritis under control, physiotherapy may be your best answer. It is very effective even with severely damaged joints when supervised by a trained physiotherapist who has knowledge of osteoarthritis.

Once a physio specialist assesses your condition thoroughly with a series of tests and possibly X-ray, they will work together with you to establish the best treatment plan. This plan may include a variety of therapies such as:

  • Remedial Massage
  • Stretching
  • Passive joint mobilisation
  • Osteoarthritis exercise program
  • Diet and weight management
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Electrotherapy
  • Acupuncture or dry needling.

These therapies aim to reduce pain, as well as stretch and strengthen muscles surrounding the affected joints. You will improve the range of movement, which will allow you to take control of your condition and to perform daily functions with less disruption.

Long-term Positive Effects of Physiotherapy for Osteoarthritis

Once you have regained function and your pain is under control, you will probably need to initiate some type of home exercise program to maintain the achieved results and reduce future flare-ups.

If you are like most people and lack discipline, you will probably stop exercising as soon as your pain decreases or as your joints become somewhat functional. However, your next flare-up will make you start the same process all over again. Such cycles can cause even more damage, which is why maintenance physiotherapy visit every 4 to 6 weeks is the best way of keeping the condition under control.

During these visits, the physiotherapist will not only work with you on the existing maintenance plan, but they will also have an opportunity to review the prescribed exercises and decide whether to modify or reinforce them. This way, they will help you control any future flare-ups and save you money on any other medical interventions that you may need to endure in case of acute flare-ups.

Since there are long waiting lists to obtain maintenance physiotherapy treatments in public facilities, private physiotherapy clinics can be an excellent option.

Whatever option you choose, you will be making a good decision, as research indicates that even severe osteoarthritis can improve with physiotherapy. Keeping the condition under control with maintenance physiotherapy is a great solution to reduce any progressive long-term damage.

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