Osteoarthritis: Helping Yourself Without Surgery
It is a common misconception that osteoarthritis (or just “arthritis”) is something that you just have to live with. Sometimes surgery is necessary in the late stage, but some joints cannot be replaced, and if you don’t have to suffer through to that point at all, why would you? Arthritis is common in the hip, knee, spine, and hands. Neck arthritis can be associated with headaches and is rarely treated with surgery.
Arthritis is a condition of the cartilage and bone of a joint. These are both living tissues, and like any other tissues, they can be supported to become healthier. The difficulty is that cartilage does not have a very good blood supply. Instead, it takes its nutrition from the fluid within the joint. It releases its waste into the same fluid, so for good joint health, that fluid needs to be constantly refreshed. The body does this itself, but it will do so more frequently with movement and exercise. Arthritis becomes a slippery slope here as movement becomes painful. With increased pain comes decreased movement, and the health of the joint reduces further.
Treating Arthritic Pain
The good news is that osteopaths are qualified to help with arthritic pain, especially osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. During treatments we can start to regain the lost movement in your arthritic joints, providing you with exercises to keep it going between sessions. When a joint becomes arthritic, the body tries to protect itself from pain. It does this by tightening the muscles around it to stop it from moving into a painful position. Although in the short term this might make things more comfortable, in the long term it plays into poor fluid and joint health.
Your osteopath will assess your body as a whole, looking for related factors in your pain. Maybe your arthritis comes from high demand on the joint due to restriction elsewhere. They may work to release the tight muscles as well as improving joint movement. A combination of massage techniques and repetitive movement for the joint is a typical approach. Any exercises you are given will be tailored just for you, with scope to adapt or upgrade them as your symptoms change over time.
Waiting lists for surgery are at an all-time high. In the later stages, there is less cartilage to heal, so our results are less effective. However we may still be able to provide some pain relief, as the compensatory patterns from local muscles and joints can still be altered. Whether your aim is to stay as comfortable as possible until your surgery, or to prevent new instances of arthritis elsewhere, we can help.
This article was written by Freya Gilmore M.Ost, an osteopath with a special interest in osteoarthritis and part of our clinic team.