Arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects our joints. It causes pain, inflammation, deformity and loss of movement. There are over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, however the main type we see in the clinic is osteoarthritis. People of all ages, ethnicity and gender are affected, but is most common amongst women and occurs more frequently as we age.
Osteoarthritis affects the entire joint complex including the bones, cartilage lining the bones, joint capsule, synovial membrane and fluid, tendons, ligaments and surrounding musculature.
The once healthy and protective cartilage begins to break down, exposing the ends of the bones leaving them vulnerable to damage. With increased friction, small pieces of cartilage can break off and form loose bodies within the joint. These loose bodies cause further irritation and inflammation.
Bone responds to stress by laying down more bone - this is how fractures heal. Therefore, as the cartilage continues to deteriorate, the bones thicken, swell and change shape. Bony spurs begin to form which further exacerbates the cycle of pain, inflammation and degeneration within the joint.
The once healthy, smooth and well lubricated joint becomes stretched, thickened and inflamed. Joint stability is compromised and the surrounding soft tissues deteriorate becoming weak and dysfunctional.
Signs and symptoms
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause:
In addition patients can report feeling unwell and tired, or experience weight loss. Osteoarthritis occurs mainly in large weight bearing joints so activities such as walking, stair climbing, getting up out of a chair and in and out of the car, can be difficult and painful. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis often occurs in the small joints of the hands, feet and wrists making things like opening a jar, holding groceries and walking too far, painful.
Regular exercise is an integral component in the management and treatment of arthritis. Many people think because arthritis is not curable they cannot be helped. Arthritis can be managed so that you can lead a normal active life.
Prescribed exercises help because:
- they strengthen your muscles and will help protect your joints
- flexibility means less pain and less risk of injury
- keeping your weight down reduces stress on weight bearing joints, and
- regular weight bearing exercises like walking helps nourish cartilage and strengthen bones, especially with osteoarthritis.