Understanding osteoarthritis

By Simon Ruppert

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disease that affects more than 2.2 million Australians.

The cost of OA is a huge burden on society.

In 2015, its cost on the healthcare system was $5.5 billion.

The estimated loss on earnings due to early retirement because of OA was $7.2 billion.

Furthermore, the prevalence of OA is expected to climb during the next 10 years.

Despite OA being the most common joint disease, many people have a poor understanding of what OA actually is.

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A common misconception is that OA is caused by "wear and tear" or that it is a degenerative condition that inevitably needs to be "fixed".

This leads to sufferers of OA feeling helpless and having an over reliance on medication or surgery.

The fact is, OA is caused by a change in the normal biological processes within the joint.

It is an active process that leads to abnormal joint changes, such as the breakdown of cartilage and inflammation.

There are several factors that contribute to the development of OA, and many of them are modifiable.

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Features, such as Increased BMI, muscle weakness, sedentary lifestyle, even stress and depressive symptoms can all correlate with increased levels of pain, yet these are all factors that can be addressed with the right approach.

That’s not to say it is easy, but people suffering with OA should be comforted by the fact that there are plenty of things they can do for themselves that can have a really positive impact on their pain and function.

The best first treatment option for OA is education, exercise and weight loss (if required).

The education is important, because if someone believes that their OA is caused by wear and tear, or they’ve been told they have "bone on bone", they’re not going to believe that exercise is good for them.

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The unfortunate fact is they could be actively avoiding, or even be afraid of the best thing for them. One of the biggest barriers to the best treatment is overcoming the misconceptions that people have.

Todd Bird is the Director and Senior Physiotherapist at Peak Sports Physiotherapy in Benalla and Wangaratta.

He has a special interest in osteoarthritis and hip and knee joint pain.

● If you would like to find out more, phone (03) 5762 2283.