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Osteoarthitis or 'wear and tear' - How worried should you be?

Osteoarthritis is a very common condition which happens in moveable joints as the cartilage and bone remodel themselves as a response to wear and load over as we age. It can happen in any joint that moves like fingers and shoulders but is most common in the spine (neck and lower back), and in the weight-baring joints like knees and hips. 90% of people over the age of 40 will show some signs of wear in their joints on X-ray in their weight-baring joints. Why is it then that the percentage of people over the age of 40 who seek treatment for pain from osteoarthritis is not also 90%?

The answer is the other risk factors that contribute to symptoms. One of the biggest risk factors include weakness in and around the joints. Early physiotherapy can do a lot to help this. If your GP simply prescribes painkillers at the first sign of joint pain, you should ask them to also refer you for physiotherapy. We can do a lot more for people who have only very mild symptoms and mild osteoarthritis. There is a lot less anybody can do for people when the osteoarthritis gets more severe and the joint has lost range of movement and function. Surgery may well be the only option at this stage.

However, rarely is it too late, and preserving function from the early stages must be the priority in order to keep you doing the things you enjoy for as long as possible. That might be running, tennis, or golf. It could just be something as simple as playing with your children or grandchildren. If you want to continue these activities, don’t leave it to chance. Your chance of osteoarthritis getting worse, and/or becoming more disabling is much higher if you don’t act to protect your joints.

Physiotherapy is one of the most effective ways to reduce the effects and the symptoms from osteoarthritis. If you have noticed increasing joint pain and you are over 30 years of age, you may be able to easily avoid deterioration. With the right treatment, it is possible for many people for their osteoarthritis to be completely asymptomatic (no pain or loss of function).

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