Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease that damages the cartilage in joints, fingers and load-bearing joints - knees, hips and spine are the joints most often affected.
According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), over two million Australians have OA which affects 12 per cent of females and 6.8 per cent of males (2017-18).
OA is considered the most common of chronic joint disease and a leading cause of pain, disability and early retirement.
OA is no longer seen as an inevitable process of wear and tear but instead a result of a joint working extra hard to repair itself.
Inflammation has been identified as a major factor in the development and progression of OA.
"The main risk factors for OA are being overweight and joint injury," pharmacist Mark Davis, from Terry White Chemmart Hamilton said.
"Nearly half of all OA cases are thought to be due to excess weight, with about one in five cases due to joint injuries - sports injuries particularly anterior cruciate ligament."
OA develops slowly, with joint pain often seen as the first sign during or after physical activity.
As the disease progresses joint pain may occur with minimal movement or during rest.
OA symptoms include:
- joint pain and tenderness
- joint stiffness
- limited movement of the joint
- grating sensation in the joint
- bony lumps around the joint
- joint swelling
"The latest guidelines for managing and preventing osteoarthritis recommend the use of exercise, heat packs and possibly walking aids, which can be particularly useful for older people to help with mobility, balance and to prevent falls," Mark said.
"Exercise is critical to strengthen the muscles that support the joint and is beneficial for better health in general."
Low-impact activities with less weight or force going through the joints are recommended and include:
- swimming or aquatic exercise classes
- strength training
- yoga, pilates and Tai Chi
Prevention of OA should focus on risk factors we can modify.
Excess weight is the most important modifiable risk factor associated with the development and progression of OA especially in osteoarthritis of the knee.
"Forty-five per cent of OA in Australia is attributable to being overweight and obese," Mark said.
"Working toward and achieving healthy weight is an important step in both reducing risk of developing OA and managing the disease.
"Every extra kilogram of weight you carry has an effect of an extra four kilograms of extra pressure on your knees. Weight loss of 5-10% of body weight for overweight people can result in significant pain relief, can improve mobility and physical function and Improved quality of life."
Massage can be an adjunct to lifestyle changes and there is supportive evidence that the use of TENS machines can assist in managing and reducing the pain of OA. For further information, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Medication can be useful particularly during OA flare-up pain.
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the pain so that the most appropriate medication can be recommended.
"Latest guidelines recommend anti-inflammatory medicines.NSAIDs like ibuprofen taken at low doses for short periods in appropriate patients with appropriate monitoring as a treatment option," Mark said.
"Again, discuss with your Doctor or Pharmacist for the most appropriate medication for you.
"Paracetamol and stronger analgesics (opioids) are no longer recommended although in the case of paracetamol it can be used first as necessary with your doctor or pharmacist monitoring if it is making any difference or not.
"Other interesting complementary medicines for which some evidence is emerging are boswellia serrata extract, curcumin and methylsulonylmethane however, further studies are needed."
For further information managing and preventing osteoarthritis talk to your doctor or give Terry White Chemmart Hamilton a call on 49611 269.