If you have ever been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), there is a good chance someone has explained this condition to you as the “wear and tear” that occurs at a joint.
As you digest your diagnosis, you may begin to feel protective of that painful joint.
“Will I have to stop running?”
“Can I still play golf?”
“Will I always feel pain when I move?”
You may also worry that you will have to give up favourite activities or stop exercising altogether, to avoid further degeneration of the joint.
The idea that OA is caused by ‘wear and tear’ is often misinterpreted. In fact, exercise (specifically in a prescribed strength program) can be very beneficial for arthritic joints.
As a physiotherapist, I often see people who have been diagnosed with OA and not only want to decrease their pain, but want answers to some very valid questions.
Here are six of the most common questions I get asked while treating someone with OA:
1. What is Arthritis?
If you break down the word arthritis, it comes from the Greek word for joint (arthro) and the Latin word for inflammation (itis).
Essentially, arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, which affects the surrounding tissues.
There are many different kinds of arthritis, but the two most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
OA is a degenerative joint disease, and RA is a systemic autoimmune disease.
2. What is the connection between women and arthritis?
Arthritis is the most common chronic condition reported by women and the third most common reported by men.1
Although OA and RA are different diseases, they occur more frequently in women; we currently don’t know why that is the case. What we do know is that smoking and obesity are risk factors for developing OA and RA.
3. Does age matter?
Arthritis is often viewed as a condition that older adults will experience. However, you might be surprised to learn that 56% of Canadians with arthritis are under the age of 65.2
That means that middle-aged adults, teenagers and even children can develop types of arthritis.
4. Why is OA described as the “wear and tear” that occurs at a joint?
Cartilage (a rubbery connective tissue that acts as a cushion between your joints) needs movement or motion to stay healthy.
To maintain healthy joints, you need a balance between regeneration (building up) and degeneration (breaking down) of the cartilage.
OA occurs when this balance is not maintained; essentially, when there is more breaking down than there is building up.
So how do we encourage the building up of new tissue? We provide healthy and specific loads to the joints, which in turn helps the cartilage to recover through guided and prescribed exercise.
5. Does a diagnosis of osteoarthritis mean I should limit my physical activity?
Individuals with osteoarthritis (OA) are less physically active than their peers who don’t have OA. This is concerning, because inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality and morbidity.
In Canada, four out of five adults don’t meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.
Not only will physical activity improve the symptoms of OA (like joint pain and stiffness), it can also improve your health and overall well-being.
6. How can physio help?
Physiotherapists can help you find the right exercises and activity to help improve pain and discomfort caused by OA while also improving your overall health.
It’s really important to find a balance between strengthening your muscles, while not irritating your joints. Physio can help with that.
If you’re starting an exercise program, remember: building strength takes time. Slow and steady will be far more effective for you than doing too much too fast.
Keep in mind that just like it takes time to heal, the OA that developed is the result of many years of stress at your joint.
What people don’t ask, but should know
Find a way to incorporate your exercises into your daily routine and find exercises you enjoy doing. Aqua fitness classes can be an excellent way to begin your strengthening program. You can use it to increase your physical activity while reducing the load on your painful joints.
A recent study by Fisken et al., 2015, found that individuals with OA who completed a 12-week aqua fitness program improved their physical function and improved their ability to perform everyday tasks.3
By making the time to go to aqua classes, for example, you may be able to regain function that you might have lost.
Bonus advice: MOVE
Don’t forget: your joints are built to move! Physiotherapists are your best resource to help you achieve your fitness goals and reduce pain.
We can recommend specific exercises for your condition to strengthen the muscles around your painful joints. All of this can help improve your pain, stiffness, and physical function.
If you can take one thought from this article, it’s to find exercises that you enjoy and keep moving!
Nicole Hills, PT: Women’s Health Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association
- Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU): Arthritis in Canada (Prepared for The Arthritis Society, 2013) 3.
- Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU): Arthritis in Canada (Prepared for The Arthritis Society, 2013) 5.
- Fisken, Alison L., et al. “Comparative effects of 2 aqua exercise programs on physical function, balance, and perceived quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis.” Journal of geriatric physical therapy38.1 (2015): 17-27.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.
Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.
More than 20,000 registered physiotherapists work in Canada, in private clinics, general and rehabilitation hospitals, community health centres, residential care and assisted-living facilities, home visit agencies, workplaces, and schools.
The CPA presents its educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.