One of the most common forms of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is wear and tear of the joints. Wear and tear of our joints may occur due to ageing, injury, prolonged poor posture, overuse of joints or excess weight. Studies have also shown that some people are prone to develop osteoarthritis and this tendency may be genetic.
Osteoarthritis can be painful and depressing. There is no cure, but there are always ways of managing the condition and making life easier.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is degeneration of the articular cartilage that covers the joints. This results in areas of the joint where bone rubs against bone. Bone spurs may form round the joint. The hallmarks of osteoarthritis are joint stiffness, swelling and pain. This often improves with light activity, but is usually worse again after gripping or pinching or after a period of rest.
Who gets Osteoarthritis?
Many people think osteoarthritis comes from a long history of hard work, but hard labour does not seem to be related. Osteoarthritis can be due to trauma such as an old fracture, but it is usually just due to the effects of ageing coupled with some hereditary contribution.
What does Osteoarthritis feel like?
Osteoarthritis develops slowly over several years. The symptoms of osteoarthritis are mainly pain, swelling and stiffening of the joints. The pain of osteoarthritis is usually worse after activity. An example is while walking the joints are OK, then pains occurs after about a minute of sitting. The pain does not come from the covering of the joint, the articular cartilage, as this tissue does not have a nerve supply. The pain may come from inflammation of the lining of the joint, small fractures in the bone under the cartilage, pressure from blood flow in the area or pressure from nerve endings.
What can I do to start feeling better?
- Limit Pain
- Increase the Mobility
- Increase Strength
- Repair and Rebuild Damage
Initially the aim is to reduce pain and discomfort. Your osteopath has several tools to help control the acute symptoms caused by osteoarthritis. Heat treatment from an ultrasound or heat pack is helpful, as heat will stimulate blood flow. Herbal medicine can help with pain relief. Joint mobilisation and manipulation may be used as they also promote fluid motion, hence lubricating and providing nutrition to the joints.
By improving mobility your osteopath can help ease the symptoms, as well as keeping the joint surfaces healthy. An improved range of motion will also help you prepare for increased activity. Therapy such as mobilisation, manipulation, stretching and massage all help increase mobility. You can also try hydrotherapy and swimming.
Osteopaths deal with osteoarthritis by ensuring that the involved joints have as close to normal movement as is possible. This involves soft tissue work to the muscles in the area and adjustment of the joint. The osteopath will also ensure that the spinal nerve supply to the surrounding tissues is also functioning properly. The effect of the nerve supply is significant, as a changed nerve supply to the area will change the way a joint and its muscles function, putting more stress on the area. This predisposes to inflammation, the primary cause of pain in osteoarthritis.