I’m sure that a large percentage of you over the age of 50 have been told you have OA, probably in your knees, hips or lower back. Most of the time, you will be told what arthritis is (degenerative change). But what is degenerative change and why does it happen?
Firstly, degenerative change is a completely normal physiological process. It’s not a ‘disease’ per se but more of a way that your body adapts to stresses placed on it. I feel like this is something that isn’t often explained well, and many people worry that something has gone severely wrong and that this isn’t a normal process. It is, don’t worry!
OA is primarily caused by misuse and disuse. Contrary to popular belief, you do not wear your joints down by using them constantly. In fact you maintain your joint health by keeping moving. Movement of joints allows them to become well lubricated with synovial fluid (the fluid inside joints) allowing them to function properly. Movement also has the added benefit of stimulating production of this fluid. Therefore by disusing your joints, by not moving enough, means they will be inadequately nourished and this leaves it vulnerable to damage and degenerative changes (arthritis).
Misuse has a different mechanism of leaving you vulnerable to degenerative change. When using a joint incorrectly, the forces it is placed under travel in directions that it was not designed to handle. This overloads the tissues past their threshold, which leads to damage and then degeneration over time.
So what do you do about OA?
Well once the degenerative change has begun to occur, there is little evidence to suggest that this can be reversed. This is because of the tissue that is damaged. Cartilage (the stuff that lines the joint surfaces of your bones) has too poor a blood supply for it to heal successfully due to a lack of nutrients from the blood. However, remember that fluid I was talking about earlier? Well that can help to nourish the cartilage, keep it as healthy as possible and prevent further damage. To do this all you need to do is keep the joint moving! An example being if you have mild knee OA, go for a walk, bend your knees, if you can manage it without pain and with good form, do some squats!
Another method of slowing the progress of OA is to strengthen the muscles around a joint, with stronger muscles the body is better able to control the joints position, and prevent it from moving into positions that will overload the tissues within.
A large number of the people presenting within Osteopathic clinic have a history of degenerative joint conditions. Most of the time we can help the issue with hands on techniques and advice. Often it’s a case of looking at the way a person moves and adjusting their tissues to help them move in a way that is less stressful on the joint. This mostly consists of gentle manual therapy. The recommended advice for general OA that affects most of the population is exercise, and the advice we provide is tailored along with our treatment sessions to each individual patients capabilities and goals.
Don’t allow the label of Osteoarthritis stop you from using your joints! Just because you’ve been given that diagnosis it doesn’t mean that the joint affected can’t be used again. In most cases this is the wrong approach, and will probably lead to a constant decline in joint health. As well as this, not moving around, even just walking to the shops, probably will have an affect on your general mood and happiness.
There’s a saying I was taught in one of my very first classes when training to be an Osteopath. MOTION IS LOTION. So get moving and keep moving.
It’s always best to consult a professional if you have any concerns before starting to exercise, or if you plan to return to exercise. Please not that more serious cases of OA will be managed differently to those that are milder.
This article should in no way act as a replacement for seeking help from a Health Care professional regarding your conditions. If you have any other questions or queries please get in touch with us, and we will be more than happy to help.