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Bone up on your joint diseases

By Ben Chatterson

 

Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects the joints in the body.

Although it can affect any joint, it is most common in the hips, knees, spine, and feet. It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage, which is the tough rubbery material that covers the joint surfaces of all of the bones in the body.  In healthy joints, the cartilage acts as a shock absorber against any weight or impact that is put through the joint. When a joint develops osteoarthritis the cartilage becomes rough and thin.

The thinning of the cartilage increases the friction in the joint and can cause an increase in the growth of the underlying bone resulting in the formation of bone spurs. If the arthritis continues to progress, the cartilage can wear away entirely leaving bone to rub on bone.

Damage due to osteoarthritis progresses slowly over time and may result in several problems.

You may have pain, especially when moving a joint. Sometimes, you may hear a grating sound when the roughened cartilage on the surface of the bones rubs together. A joint may feel sore and stiff, and the joint won’t move as easily or as far as it once did. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is best to see your family doctor and get an x-ray to look at the health of whatever joints are causing you pain. Although traditional wisdom states that osteoarthritis is caused by “wear and tear” the exact cause of osteoarthritis is actually unknown.

The risk of getting osteoarthritis increases with your weight and with your age. Most people develop it after the age of 45. A previous injury to a joint will also increase your chances of developing arthritis.

So what can you do once you have developed arthritis?  Joint protection and exercise are the most effective ways to slow the progression of the disease.

Exercise helps reduce pain and prevents further joint damage. Strengthening exercises help to protect and stabilize the joint, gentle stretching exercises can help to keep it moving and low impact exercises such as walking or swimming can help increase your cardiovascular fitness and keep your weight down. Protecting the joint means not trying to do too much at once, positioning the joints properly to avoid undue stress, and using devices like grocery carts or canes to help make daily tasks easier. If you are having trouble moving because of osteoarthritis a physiotherapist can show you some simple exercises to help maintain the strength and flexibility of your joints as well as giving you strategies to help decrease joint stress.

Surgery is sometimes an option in cases where exercise and joint protection are no longer effective. In an arthroscopic surgery, bits of cartilage are trimmed or removed from the joint to allow the joint to move more smoothly. Generally when arthroscopic surgery is unsuccessful the final option is to replace the entire joint with an artificial one.

 

Ben Chatterson is a physiotherapist at Rehabilitation in Motion. Visit www.rehabinmotion.com

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