What Do We Know About Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis has increased dramatically since the middle of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, researchers are busy in search of answers for the what’s, why’s and how’s of this frequently occurring condition. Like so many areas in medical science we know a lot about osteoarthritis, but fall short of knowing how to prevent, slow down or reverse joint damage caused by osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, spine and hands, is more common in women, and occurs more frequently after the age of 40.
It is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that involves the joint cartilage (the shiny and slippery surface on the end of the bone), the bone underlying the cartilage, and the joint lining and capsule.
Symptoms include at varying degrees of severity joint pain, swelling, stiffness and associated muscle weakness and/or tightness. The symptoms of Osteoarthritis tend come and go, with periods of increased discomfort and periods of greater comfort.
Known Causes and Risk Factors for the Development of OA Include:
– Prior joint injury and damage
– Genetic predisposition and bone deformities
– Long term overuse such as might occur in a work environment or some sports
Medical treatment and interventions cannot, at this time, prevent or reverse the joint damage caused by the osteoarthritis process.
Medications such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory can help manage symptoms. Advanced disease is treated on an as needed basis with corticosteroid injections and surgical interventions such as hip and knee joint replacements.
Injection therapies such as Prolotherapy, PRP (plasma rich protein) and Stem Cell therapies have not been proven to be consistently effective therapies to treat symptoms of OA or to reverse joint damage and the future role of these therapies is uncertain.
What is the Best Treatment for Osteoarthritis?
Evidence based treatment of Osteoarthritis emphasizes education, weight management, exercise and activity modifications to reduce pain and improve mobility and function.
Despite what could be exciting future developments in the medical treatment of osteoarthritis, primary treatment will be patient education, weight management, exercise and activity modifications. These are tangible strategies, available now for people with osteoarthritis to take charge of managing the health of their joints.
The challenge of course for the medical and physiotherapy professions is to provide accessible services to people that assesses, treats, educates and follows patients once diagnosed or at risk of developing osteoarthritis. For many people, consulting with their physiotherapist and applying their programs and exercises at home or in their community gym is an effective approach. However, there remains a need to reach more Canadians diagnosed with osteoarthritis and facilitate the education and exercise programs that is key to best treatment and management of their OA.
Physical therapy can help to reduce the pain, swelling, and stiffness of knee osteoarthritis, and it can help improve knee joint function. It can also make it easier for you to walk, bend, kneel, squat, and sit. In fact, a 2000 study found that a combination of manual physical therapy and supervised exercise has functional benefits for patients with knee osteoarthritis and may delay or prevent the need for surgery.1
Physical therapy can help to reduce the pain, swelling, and stiffness of knee osteoarthritis, and it can help improve knee joint function. It can also make it easier for you to walk, bend, kneel, squat, and sit. The two main types of physical therapy—passive and active treatments—can help make your knee OA more manageable. With passive treatments, the physical therapist does the majority of the work. But with active treatments, you do more of the work, such as at-home exercises.