Myths about osteoarthritis debunked
Contrary to popular belief, sufferers of this chronic disease can actually benefit from regular exercise
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative chronic disease that most commonly occurs in the hands and knees, and comes with symptoms of pain, joint stiffness and swelling.
There is no cure and the condition cannot be reversed. Known treatments for OA are holistic processes as there is no one-stop solution to manage it.
A combination of therapeutic exercises, medications, supplements and surgical procedures may be required depending on the severity of the condition, the age of the person and other lifestyle factors.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about OA persist even today. Here are some myths that have been debunked.
It is normal to develop OA as you age
Age does not cause OA. However, like obesity, history of an injury or a physically straining job, age is also a risk factor that may lead to OA.
While ageing is associated with loss of muscle strength and increased stiffness of the joint, exercising can slow down or prevent these changes, allowing us to maintain our joint health.
By eating well and exercising regularly, we can reduce risk factors associated with OA which in turn reduces the likelihood of one developing OA, especially for our knees.
Weight gain as you age is unavoidable
It is not certain that everyone puts on a few pounds as they age, but it is true that as you grow older, your muscle density decreases, allowing fatty or fibrous tissues to fill in that muscle space, causing a little more flabbiness and loss of muscle strength.
Therefore, strength or resistance exercises are crucial to prevent loss of muscle mass but also to help with weight management, which in turn reduces the stress on your joints and reduces the likelihood of OA.
Managing your weight also relieves existing symptoms, and improves function and mobility for those already diagnosed with the condition.
Exercise worsens OA
Exercise has always been a key component of any OA treatment plan.
It helps to manage body weight, preserves the range of motion in the joints, helps with strength and balance, increases blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles and joints, improves overall performance and reduces the symptoms of the condition.
But some OA patients may believe one should avoid exercising to prevent the condition from worsening.
In truth, it is the intensity, frequency and type of exercise that matters most.
Physiotherapists recommend joint-friendly exercises such as walking, biking or swimming. A mix of aerobic and strength exercises also help.
It is okay to continue exercising even if you experience mild pain - as long as the pain does not increase or persist after exercise.
Surgery is the only cure
Surgery is the last in line when all other treatments fail. However, exercise is still important before and after surgery.
Therapists will advise patients on exercises they should do and how to manage post-op pain. Regardless of the type of surgery, exercise is important to help maintain biomechanics and strength.
OA is genetic
To an extent, it is true that your chances of getting OA are higher if your parents have it.
However, research has shown that more than 50 per cent of people diagnosed with OA have it primarily due to being overweight, lack of exercise and knee injuries.
OA is not a serious condition
OA is one of the leading causes of disability, increasing the risk of falls which in turn increases the risk of morbidity and mortality.
This is because OA results in pain and stiffness, which if poorly managed, can make everyday activities difficult.
The good news is that X-ray changes from OA are not directly related to the symptoms. Other factors such as your weight, fitness level and mindset are more likely to influence the level of pain and disability experienced.
The writer is a physiotherapist and rehab manager at Active Global Home & Community Care