28 February 2014 by Neil Boston
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which there is inflammation in the joint and the cartilage slowly wears away, leading to pain, swelling and loss of function in the affected joint or joints. It is the most common form of arthritis and is a problem associated with joints, as opposed to rheumatoid arthritis which attacks joints, ligaments and tendons.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease; signs and symptoms gradually worsen over time. There is no cure. However, available therapies help with pain and swelling (inflammation), and keep the patient mobile and active. Experts say that patients who take steps to actively manage their osteoarthritis are more likely to gain control over their symptoms.
Any joint in the body may be affected. However, the disease is most likely to affects the patient’s hands, hips, knees, lower back and neck. It is more common among females than males, especially after the age of 50 years and post-menopausal osteoarthritis often affects the small joints in hands and feet. Most commonly, it develops in people aged over 40. Younger people may also be affected; usually after an injury or as a result of another joint condition.
Some people say that osteoarthritis is an inevitable part of ageing. This is untrue. There are people well into their nineties who have no clinical or functional signs of the disease. However it tends to run in families.
How can I help myself?
Osteoarthritis can be managed by improving your general health. Your doctor may recommend ways you can help yourself, such as taking regular exercise and losing weight.
Exercise is the most important treatment for people with osteoarthritis, whatever your age or level of fitness. Your physical activity should include a combination of exercises to strengthen your muscles and exercises to improve your general fitness.
If osteoarthritis causes you pain and stiffness, you may think exercise will make your symptoms worse. But usually, regular exercise that keeps you active and mobile and builds up muscle, thereby strengthening the joints, will improve symptoms. Exercise is also good for relieving stress, losing weight and improving your posture, all of which will ease symptoms. Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) have recently updated the guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis and exercise is one of the “core treatments” which means that research proves exercise is effective. Maintaining a healthy weight has also proved effective in managing the problem.
Pilates is great for people with osteoarthritis as there is lots of gentle stretching, toning, co-ordination and balance work. Pain stops us moving correctly, which in turn causes our deep muscles to switch off, reducing support for affected joints. This cycle continues and the problem gets worse. By gently and gradually encouraging our bodies to work more efficiently with Pilates, we can help to lessen the effect of the disease.
Contributed by Linda Boston