Osteoarthritis is the medical name for the changes which happen in a joint with age. In most people, this process plays out as a natural part of aging, and is really nothing to worry about (no more so than grey hair and wrinkles!). In some people, osteoarthritis can start to become painful, and it's a pretty common reason for seeing your GP or physiotherapist. While we can’t cure arthritis, there’s plenty we can do in terms of exercise and lifestyle to manage it well. Joint replacements are often discussed as a potential treatment, but it's not just as simple as swapping out a mechanical part. It involves a pretty substantial surgery, a years worth of rehab, and the new joint will need replacing again after roughly 15 years.
In the past, we’ve always thought of arthritis as being mainly a mechanical issue, wear and tear. This has always made exercise sound a bit counterintuitive, why would you exercise on a joint which is already worn out from too much use? More recent research has found out that rather than worrying about the wear, we should be thinking of osteoarthritis as being in the same camp as things like high blood pressure, type II diabetes and heart conditions. For this reason, regular general exercise, at least 30 minutes every day is essential.
On top of general exercise, we also know that specific strengthening of your thigh, buttock and trunk muscles can take some pressure off the sore joints, and make them last longer. These can range from simple squeezing exercises all the way to weighted squats. This is where it's worthwhile checking in with a physiotherapist, too much or too little strength work will be like taking medication at the wrong dose.
Lastly, your general health and wellbeing plays a huge role in the comfort and health of your joints. Your GP is your best port of call for general check ups and pain relief. Getting a nutritionist or dietician to take a fine tooth comb over your diet is also really helpful and worthwhile. Body weight and general inflammation play a huge role in making arthritis better or worse, and even small changes to your diet can make a huge difference.
We know that people who make a sustained effort with their general fitness, strength, general health and lifestyle can put off joint replacements for years, or even get rid of the need altogether!