Our bodies are made up of many things. The fundamental building blocks are our bones.
Where two bones meet together is a joint and the bone at this meeting point is covered in articular cartilage.
This cartilage is very smooth and allows for minimal frictional forces as we move. The cartilage is poorly vascularised (ie has bad blood supply) and therefore when it breaks down it doesn’t heal particularly well.
As we move frictional forces are at play and create microtrauma to the joint surface. This can occur over many years and is called osteoarthritis (OA). It is a degenerative condition, which means it has the propensity to worsen with time.
This degenerative process exposes the underlying bone to stress and strain and this can often result in pain, reducing movement and function and wasting of muscles.
OA is present in about 15% of the Australian population affecting over 3 million people, and is the leading cause of pain and disability in the elderly.
The most commonly affected joints are thumbs, spine, feet, hips and knees.
How to spot an arthritic joint
The joints are often inflamed (hot, red, swollen and painful) and there is often a reduction in movement available or functional capacity. There may also be creaking or crepitus noted during movement.
A simple x-ray can diagnose the presence of arthritic changes.
How can I help myself
Heat and exercise can provide symptomatic relief – so keep moving, but avoid overstressing yourself. Stick to simple activities such as pilates, walking, swimming, cycling or Tai-chi.
You can modify your activities (rest) when the joint is especially inflamed and use supports, bandages and straps to relieve the symptoms.
Diet, weight management and exercise should be encouraged, and anti-inflammatory medication should be discussed with your GP and/or pharmacist.