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What is osteoarthritis and what can I do to manage my symptoms?

What is osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disorder characterised by gradual deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the bones, which results in joint pain and stiffness that worsens on physical activity.1 OA is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, typically affecting the knee, hip, hands and lower and upper spine.

OA can be a debilitating condition and can impact your day-to-day activities. Fortunately, by undertaking certain lifestyle modifications and self-help measures, you can reduce the symptom burden. So here are three key areas where you can start managing your symptoms right now.

  • Exercise & Weight Management

It may seem counterintuitive to increase physical activity if exercise triggers joint pain and stiffness. However, research has shown that low-impact exercises such as walking can significantly improve your symptoms in the long term by strengthening the muscles that support the joint, reducing overall body weight and improving your mood at the same time. Exercise can reduce osteoarthritis symptoms for 2-6 months even after stopping exercise and helps reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as diabetes.2 

It is also crucial to manage your weight and stick to a healthy diet, as excess weight can increase the strain placed on your joints, particularly the knee and hip joints.

You may find it helpful to discuss any weight management and exercise plans with your GP or physiotherapist and dietician to identify the most suitable exercises and dietary goals.

  • Pain Management

If you have been diagnosed with OA, your doctor would have discussed potential pain medications with you. Typical medications include capsaicin cream, paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and steroids. You should aim to take pain medication as instructed by the doctor to help alleviate any discomfort. Hot and cold packs such as using a hot-water bottle and assistive devices such as footwear with special insoles can help reduce pain further. 

It would be helpful to discuss your current pain management and experience with your GP so that further medication and therapies can be explored if none of the above is working for you. 

  • Relaxing & Sleeping Well

Relaxation therapies such as meditation and breathing techniques that get you to focus on breathing or a particular sound can help manage stress and pain. You can learn these techniques using online resources or by attending classes. If you would like to explore alternative therapies, please speak to your GP for further information. 

Poor sleep can exacerbate the pain you experience, which can affect your sleep further. Try to establish a routine where you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day. Try also to avoid drinks containing caffeine or looking at digital screens before bedtime.

If you would like to find out more about osteoarthritis, what treatment options are available to you and how you can better manage your symptoms, please feel free to book an appointment with one of our GPs by either visiting our website or call us on 0203 371 0995.

References

1. VersusArthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) | Causes, symptoms, treatments [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Apr 20]. Available from: https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/osteoarthritis/

2. Fransen M, McConnell S, Harmer AR, van der Esch M, Simic M, Bennell KL. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee: A Cochrane systematic review [Internet]. Vol. 49, British Journal of Sports Medicine. BMJ Publishing Group; 2015 [cited 2021 Apr 20]. p. 1554–7. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095424

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