What is arthritis?
Our body is made up of a system of bones making our skeleton. Where two of these bones meet, they form a joint where the bones glide smoothly past each other as we move. To make sure this movement is smooth, the bone at each end of the joint is covered in a slippery non-stick surface called articular cartilage. Arthritis is when articular cartilage starts to wear away and begins to damage the underlying bone. This happens due to excessive loading on our joints caused by high impact activities, excess weight, genetics and a myriad of other lifestyle factors.
Once you are over the age of 25, this articular cartilage will stop naturally regenerating, so it is important that we look after our joints as much as possible throughout life, to minimise the severity of arthritis down the track.
Can arthritis cause pain?
Arthritis ends to be graded from mild (minor damage to the cartilage only), all the way through to severe (cartilage that has been worn completely through). It is only when arthritis moves towards this severe stage that we tend to feel pain. Even in its severe state, arthritic pain will tend to worsen when we put more load on the joints. The less load that goes through the arthritic joint, the less pain a person will have, and also the risk of further damage decreases. However this does not mean we all need to lie on couches each day to minimise arthritic pain.
Is there anything I can do relieve the pain of arthritis?
There are many ways you can protect joints from arthritic changes or decrease pain from current arthritis. The stronger the muscles are around a joint, the less a joint will be loaded up as the force will be transferred through the muscles instead. Your physiotherapist can help provide an exercise programme that maximises strength gains in the muscle, while still not loading the joint so much as to cause pain. Your physiotherapist can also teach you different methods of performing activities that usually cause pain. This will help unload the arthritic joint and make it easier to do things in your day to day life.
Obviously the heavier you are, the more weight goes through your joints, causing pain if the arthritis is severe, or making it more likely you will damage the joint further in the future. Good diet and weight loss could be a factor in minimising the pain and damage done to your joints. If you struggle with weight loss, then you could get in touch with a dietician to help you with this.
If the pain (not necessarily just the arthritis) is severe, you may need more medical help. Injections from your doctor can give some temporary relief while you build up strength around the joint. When the pain is too severe, and more conservative options like physiotherapy or injections have not worked, then a specialist may decide a joint replacement is appropriate for you. It is important to note though that the stronger you are before surgery, the better the outcome after surgery. Therefore even if you do go down this path, talk to your physiotherapist about a strengthening and exercise programme to do prior to surgery to maximise your results afterwards.
When should I start strengthening?
The sooner the better. Whether it is preventative work, or trying to get pain under control there is a programme that will work for you. The sooner you can start, the less likely you are to make the arthritis worse, and the quicker you can get relief. If you are unsure what you should do, book an appointment today to discuss options with one of our physiotherapists.