Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It’s a degenerative joint disease and a major cause of disability among older people. The likelihood of developing Osteoarthritis is between the ages of 45 and 75 years, with women more likely to be affected than men plus a higher risk if there is a family history of the disease. Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that affects joints, especially the hips, knees, neck, lower back, or hands and feet.
When osteoarthritis develops in a joint the loss of the protective cushion between the ends of the bones that separate each of the spinal bones causes them to rub together. Gradually the movement becomes difficult resulting in painful and swollen joints as the body attempts to repair the damage. Osteoarthritis can cause the nerves exiting the spinal canal to become pinched, resulting in numbness or weakness in the legs. Cartilage damage and other osteoarthritic changes may occur slowly – as a consequence of ageing, or can follow a previous injury in or near a joint. Symptoms of this “wear and tear” include sore joints, pain after increased activity or extended periods of inactivity, joint deformity, and fluid accumulation.
In more severe disease there may be a change in the shape of the spine leading to further pain and limited movement. Pain during the day is often made worse by some activities such as gardening, but pain at night can prevent sleep leaving people feeling low. When knee and hip joints are affected activities such as walking, climbing stairs and lifting objects can become a problem. Osteoarthritis in the finger and hand joints may cause difficulty with gripping, holding objects, and an inability to undertake fine movements. Pain from the lower back may also be felt in the hips and legs with associated muscle spasms or “pins and needles”.
According to the NHS there are currently no drug treatments that either prevents osteoarthritis from developing or it progressing. The diagnosis of osteoarthritis is usually made on the basis of symptoms and examination of the affected joints. A blood test can exclude other types of arthritis and X-rays are sometimes undertaken. Current treatments for helping with pain and stiffness may include pain relieving tablets or creams, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (known as NSAIDs). Some people may be offered an injection of glucocorticoid drugs (‘steroids’) into the joints, to provide pain relief when initial therapy is ineffective. For people with severe pain and significant joint damage, surgery may be considered such as replacement hip or knee joints.
Being overweight puts pressure on affected joints, particularly if the osteoarthritis affects the back or lower limb joints. So appropriate exercises, physical therapy, or joint splinting and losing some weight are recommended..
Here are 4 simple exercises for the knees. If you experience pain – stop.
1 Calf stretch to improve knee function and ease pain and stiffness
Hands on wall or post for support- right leg in front and left leg behind. Bend right front knee, lean into support, press left heel to floor. Feel the stretch in left calf muscle, hold for 30 seconds and relax down. Repeat to other side and hold for 30 secs.
2 Seated hip march to improve thigh muscles and help prevent knee problems
Sit up straight with left foot on floor. Lift right foot off the floor, keeping knee bent and hold up for five seconds. Lower down and repeat 10 times. Now repeat 10 times with left leg.
3 Hamstring stretch to improve knee function
Lie on back, both knees bent with cushion to support head. Loop a towel or exercise band around your right foot. Extend and lift your right leg up straight as possible. Feel the stretch in your right hamstring (behind knee and thigh) and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with left foot and hold for 30 secs.
4 Quadriceps stretch to reduce pain and stiffness
Lie face down on cushion, bend right knee and grab ankle with your right hand. Pull right foot towards buttocks until you feel stretch in the thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with left leg and hold for 30 secs.