Arthritis is seen by some people as a scary prospect, but it shouldn't have to be. There are many self care things you can do to help tackle your pain levels and keep you moving. Whilst wear and tear (degeneration) to our joints is a normal part of the ageing process, the pain from arthritic changes can be debilitating, so let's look at some ways you can help yourself. This article will focus only on osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as OA, rather than other forms of arthritis.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines suggest that manual therapy such as osteopathy can relieve pain, increase flexibility and improve quality of life for people with osteoarthritis. This is also reflected by the NHS guidelines which recommend manual therapy (stretching and manipulation), alongside exercise, weight loss and pain medications to manage symptoms. Clearly, there are many things people can try before considering surgical options!
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, or OA, is one of the leading causes of pain and is most common in the over 45 age group, but don't be fooled, it can also affect younger people. Hip and knee joints are most commonly affected by arthritis, but spines, hands, wrists, feet and ankles are also frequently affected. OA is a degenerative joint condition, which causes the smooth cartilage that creates a lining to the joint to wear away. Damage to this cartilage causes friction, making movement more difficult and leading to pain, stiffness and inflammation. Over time, the cartilage erodes and bony spurs (osteophytes) can develop, which further exacerbates these symptoms.
How can osteopathy help?
Whilst arthritis as a disease cannot ever be 'cured' by osteopathy, the arthritic pain and symptoms resulting from the disease can be significantly reduced. Many arthritis sufferers are told that 'nothing can be done, you just have to live with it' or 'pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs are the only treatment available'. Osteopathy cannot reverse the damage already done to the joints or stop further damage occurring, but treatment can certainly ease the pain, reduce swelling, reduce the stiffness and restore some joint mobility. Management focuses on helping to improve your lifestyle and help you cope with your symptoms.
Osteopathic treatment itself includes gentle stretching, mobilisation techniques to the joints and traction techniques. Treatment aims to get the best out of the affected areas by improving the mobility of arthritic joints as far as possible within a comfortable range and work with associated joints to ensure that they are functioning well enough to take the extra strain as they compensate for the damaged joint, maintaining good overall mobility. In chronic cases it may not be the actual arthritic joint that causes most of the pain. The body often naturally tries to protect the joint by splinting it with muscle spasm and it is the muscles and soft tissues that are the source of the aches and pains. Osteopathic treatment can reduce this excessive muscle tension, ease the pain and improve movement.
Treatment is often followed up with exercise advice to help you stay mobile and flexible. Self-care is important when living well with arthritis. You need to stay physically active which keeps the joints flexible and the muscles strong, thereby protecting the joints. Managing your weight, eating a nutritious diet and getting a good balance of rest and activity each day are also important.
Do you suffer from osteoarthritis or know someone who does? It might be time to give osteopathy a go at managing your symptoms, so get in touch and find out how we can potentially help you manage the pain of arthritic change.