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You are here: Home > Midlife matters > MM selected articles > ArthritisTuesday 23 April 2024   


28-Jan-2023 Arthritis

Around 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis. Arthritis means pain, swelling or stiffness in a joint or joints. It's not a single condition and there are many different types, says Rhian Horlock, Physical Activity Programme Manager at Versus Arthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of the condition, affecting 8.75 million people in the UK. Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout and, unlike OA, these are known as forms of inflammatory arthritis, caused when our immune system mistakenly attacks our joints.

What is osteoarthritis?

OA occurs when the body's natural repair systems are unable to repair the wear of a joint from daily use.

In a healthy joint, a coating of tissue called cartilage covers the surface of the bones and helps them move smoothly against each other.

When a joint develops osteoarthritis, part of the cartilage thins and the surface of the joint becomes rougher. When your body is unable to repair this damage properly, the structure of the joint changes, which means it doesn't move as smoothly as it should, causing symptoms of OA such as pain, swelling, or stiffness.

What causes osteoarthritis?

It's still not clear what causes OA, but we do know it isn't simply 'wear and tear'. We also know:

  • It usually starts from the late 40s onwards and may be due to ageing.
  • It is more common and more severe in women.
  • Joint injury and being overweight are common causes.

How will osteoarthritis affect me?

OA affects different people in different ways. But, for most people, it doesn't continue to get worse over time.

Early symptoms of OA include pain, fatigue, stiffness, limited flexibility and swollen joints. If you'mve experienced any of these, speak to your doctor and they will do a physical examination to determine a diagnosis.

For some people, the condition reaches a peak a few years after the symptoms start and then remains the same or may even improve. Others may find their joint pain comes and goes with periods of feeling better in between.

If your OA worsens, you may find some of your daily activities (like going up and down stairs) more difficult, depending on which joints are affected and you may find it difficult to sleep. Your doctor might encourage you to try options such as painkillers, exercise, physiotherapy and sometimes steroid injections, but some people may eventually need joint replacement surgery.

Does exercise help osteoarthritis?

It can be hard to keep moving when you have arthritis, especially when you're in pain. However, exercise can be very beneficial for people with any form of arthritis and you should try to make it part of your daily routine.

Staying active is one of the best ways to reduce the impact of OA, because too much rest can weaken joints, making your pain worse in the long run. As well as reducing your pain, exercise can:

  • improve your muscle strength which keeps your joints strong and well-supported
  • reduce stiffness in your joints
  • help your balance
  • improve energy levels and feelings of tiredness
  • help you manage your weight
  • boost your mood

And if you're waiting for a joint replacement, exercise can reduce the risks in surgery and improve your recovery.

What kind of exercise should I do?

When you're living with OA, you might feel nervous about exercising.

Ultimately you should always listen to your body, so if you're very stiff and sore, a more intensive exercise session may not be right for that day. When you're feeling like this, it is better to opt for low-impact exercise like walking, stretching, yoga, tai chi, or simply moving during the day wherever possible.

A little bit of exercise is always better than nothing. If you feel you can, try walking to the shop instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of using the lift.

Let's move

Let's Move with Leon is a free online programme designed to help people with arthritis exercise at home. It is presented by fitness expert Leon Wormley who specialises in working with people with arthritis and related conditions. You can do the classes at home and you don't need any special gear or equipment. There is even a new special Christmas edition with festive exercises.

For more information, please visit: Versus Arthritis or call (UK) 0800 5200 520.

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