How Physiotherapists can treat Osteoarthritis more effectively

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions to affect UK adults with one-in-eight – or roughly eight million people – suffering from the condition. Despite it being so widespread, questions remain as to the best methods of treatment.

So, what can we do to better help those with arthritis?

Managing Pain Through Activity

Few people enjoy pain. It can lead us to stop the activities we love because we worry we are only making things worse. Getting back to doing things can be scary, and people often don’t know what to do or where to start.

And we often don’t realise that pain can impact more aspects of our lives than we understand.

We slip into a cycle without noticing, which can then be very difficult to escape. If we are stressed, anxious and sleeping poorly, our bodies and minds become even more sensitised to pain, reinforcing this negative cycle.

The Pain Cycle: How pain affects our lives. Ford-Chancellor Wellness. 2017.

As physiotherapists, we appreciate that regardless of your age, fitness level or mobility, getting you active again is key to your rehabilitation and essential to you enjoying life. We know there is always something that you can do to break this cycle of pain.

It’s about regaining control.

One of the main areas we focus on is exercise. Research, coupled with our experience, has taught us that finding the right level of activity is critical in helping you manage your symptoms.

So, we work on:

  • Range of movement

With osteoarthritis, we often discover that our joints change shape and our movement stiffens. It is essential to maintain a good range of movement in the joints to reduce stiffness and help keep them functional.

Self-massage works well, alongside range-of-movement, and stretching exercises.

  • Strength

If we build muscle, we increase the support structures around the joints. This helps your joints feel more stable, reduces pain and helps you continue with the activities you love.

  • Aerobic capacity

Any form of exercise that makes you a little short of breath is perfect. Research suggests that aerobic exercise is great at increasing our circulation, helping reduce the build-up of stress-related hormones, improving our sleep, while also reducing our pain through the release of endorphins.

Finding the Right Balance

While we love exercise, with osteoarthritis we must always pace ourselves, finding a happy medium between exercise and rest.

People often fall into what we call a “boom-or-bust” cycle, either over- or under-exercising. Pacing allows us to break activities into manageable chunks, effectively supporting our bodies without flaring up our symptoms.

It’s all about achieving that perfect balance.

Other Ways to Fight Flare-Ups

As well as exercise, heat treatment – say, a hot water bottle or hot bath – can be a quick way of easing symptoms.

Sleep is also a vital, as it supports our ability to function normally in day-to-day life. Deep breathing, relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be beneficial if you find that your mind just won’t switch off at night. Finding an ideal sleeping position is also helpful as this lets you relax as you prepare to drift off.

What some people may not realise is that physios can also help people manage the stress and anxiety caused by osteoarthritis, using educational resources and personal support during their return to activity. It is always beneficial to have someone on your journey for a little bit of extra motivation.

There is so much you can achieve, and we’re there to help you along your journey.

When to Consider Surgery

In some cases, these lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient to allow you to continue with the things you want, so more invasive treatment –  such as a joint replacement – may be the best option. All the same, these positive lifestyle changes, including exercise as part of your daily routine, will ease and speed your recovery, post-surgery.

“Prehab” – as we like to call it – is just as important as it helps your muscles stay active, or switched on, pre-surgery. Muscle can quickly start to waste, and always takes longer to build back up, so if you can keep up with some gentle and pain-free exercise pre-surgery, you are putting your body in the best state.

Post-surgery, you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the physio team will encourage movement and activity. With our guidance and support, we can help you get back to a life not limited by pain, safely and comfortably.

Speaking to a physiotherapist is a great way to help you plan a routine that fits comfortably within your day.


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