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What is arthritis (osteoarthritis)?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic and progressive breakdown of the protective cartilage in the joints. It commonly affects the hips, knees, hands, low back and neck.
The main symptoms are pain and stiffness which develop gradually over time. In the later stages, swelling and bony deformity can occur.
Traditionally, arthritis has been considered a “wear and tear” disease process. It was thought to develop solely due to increased strain on the joints from some form of trauma (e.g. a car accident) or daily micro-injury from poor mechanics or over-use. However, more recent research suggests that this may not be the complete picture. New evidence is showing that arthritis is not the same disease process in every case and that many factors are involved.
Inflammation, obesity, nutrition, hormone imbalance, autoimmunity and genetic variation have all been shown to play a role in patients with arthritis. It is likely that in most cases a number of factors play a role, not just mechanical “wear and tear” as previously thought.
Arthritis can be identified with a physical examination. X-ray imaging is warranted in some cases to further assess the degree of degeneration. However, it is important to understand that X-ray imaging does not correlate well with arthritic symptoms. 50% of asymptomatic patients over 50 years of age will show signs of arthritis on x-ray despite having no pain what-so-ever! Therefore, even if your x-ray shows arthritic changes this does not guarantee that arthritis is the cause (or sole cause) of your pain. More important than structural damage is function. How well do you move? Are you strong enough? Are you mobile enough? If these factors are addressed we can see dramatic changes in pain even in joints that are shown to be severely arthritic on x-ray.
As there are many factors involved in the development of arthritis treatment should try and address as many of these factors as possible. Treatment strategies could include:
- Manual therapy (e.g. chiropractic, physiotherapy). To restore movement and function to the muscles, soft tissues and joints.
- To restore muscle strength and flexibility and to correct any muscle imbalance.
- To improve fitness levels, aid weight loss and decrease inflammation.
- To aid weight loss and decrease inflammation. .
- To decrease inflammation and provide additional nutrients important for joint and muscle health.
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