Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects your joints. Most commonly the weight bearing joints of the spine, hips, knees and feet but also the hands. It can also be in response to previous damage to the joints.
The surfaces within your joints become damaged so the joint doesn’t always move as smoothly as it should. The condition is sometimes called arthrosis or osteoarthrosis or spondylitis in the spine. Older terms are degenerative joint disease or wear and tear.
When a joint develops osteoarthritis, some of the cartilage covering the ends of the bones gradually roughens, becomes thinner, and the bone underneath thickens in the load response. All the tissues within the joint become more active than normal – as if your body is trying to repair the damage:
- The bone at the edge of your joint grows outwards, forming bony spurs called osteophytes.
- The synovium (the inner layer of the joint capsule which produces synovial fluid) may thicken and make extra fluid. This causes your joint to swell.
- The capsule and ligaments (tough bands that hold the joint together) slowly thicken and contract as if they were trying to make your joint more stable.
Sometimes your body’s repairs are quite good and the changes inside your joint won’t cause pain or problems. But in some cases of osteoarthritis, the cartilage can become so thin that it doesn’t cover the ends of your bones. Your bones become very irritated and start to adaptively change. The loss of cartilage, the wearing of bone and the bony spurs can change the shape of your joint, forcing your bones out of their normal position. This can be painful in some people more than others which can be confusing.
Physiotherapy can help you understand the condition, settle any irritated joints and preserve movement, strength and day to day function. Pain medication can help but must be discussed with your Pharmacist or GP in case of other medical conditions or medications.
Physiotherapists certainly don’t treat arthritis just as it looks on an X-Ray but much more holistically, establishing individual problems and solutions with you and a way forward.
Some great further information about all arthritic conditions can be found at www.arthritisresearchuk.org.