Are You at Risk of Osteoarthritis? - Active & Ageless

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Are You at Risk of Osteoarthritis?

A guest post from Nick Torrance @ Balance in Motion Physiotherapy

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of lack of exercise in people over the age of 65. It is a random lifelong joint disease that often begins with no real rhyme or reason. Did you know that Osteoarthritis is more common than high blood pressure and diabetes in people over the age of 65? It affects more than 2 million Australians!

Cartilage makes the ends of our bones smooth so they play nicely with other bones.

In a normal joint eg your knee or hip joint the cartilage around the bone forms a nice sliding surface for the two bones to glide past each other beautifully. Around the joint is the capsule. The capsule holds everything together kind of like gladwrap. The capsule also makes synovial joint fluid which nourishes the cartilage keeping the joint happy and healthy. Ligaments hold everything together and your muscles move and stabilize the joint. Moving the joint keeps everything running smoothly. Not moving the joint isn’t great at all!

In a normal joint there is a constant balance between the body breaking down cartilage and making new cartilage.

Osteoarthritis happens when there is an imbalance between the degeneration and the regeneration of cartilage. We know this is caused by too much load on the joint. This could be a sudden increase in load like an acute injury (think an ACL rupture in your knee from a poor soccer tackle) OR too much load over a longer period of time (doing 50 marathons in 50 days). These changes can happen to the joint slowly over time and can include extra bone growth, cysts, hardening of the bone below the cartilage and loss of cartilage over the bones.

Osteoarthritis can start with pain when you get up and start moving, especially walking down stairs with lower limb joints. It can make you feel like your knee or hip is giving way, your joint may be stiffer and can start to click and grind.

People wrongly call it “wear and tear” and state that my joints are “worn out”. This is not the case at all and it is dangerous terminology because it assumes if you keep moving you will wear them out more. You NEED movement to help!!!! Read on to find out why movement is absolutely crucial to feeling better.

Many studies have shown that cartilage needs moderate physical activity to regenerate.

Am I at risk?

  • If you have had a serious joint injury such as rupturing your ACL in your knee or tearing the meniscus you have a 50% more likely chance of developing OsteoArthritis. Generally 10 to 15 years later.
  • If you expose your joint to too much load: think of Rafael Nadel training 5 hours per day or  NBA basket ballers training for hours on hard courts every day with minimal recovery.
  • Being Overweight: If you put on an extra few kgs your joints are forced to take more load.
  • Being inactive: Being a couch potato or desk workaholic doesn’t help your joints. Cartilage needs movement to keep the joint healthy. Too much sitting on your backside stops the load required to activate cells to repair cartilage and nourish your joints.
  • Age: Some things we just can’t change 🙁 OsteoArthritis becomes more frequent as we get older.

That was all rather depressing. However THE GOOD NEWS IS

You can significantly reduce your pain, reduce the risk of getting OA, improve your current function, take less pain killers and generally just lead a more kick ass life. Yay!

How can I help myself?

Neuromuscular Strength Exercises

It has now been shown that neuromuscular strength exercises (What we do as Physiotherapists) and physical activity can reduce risk of developing OA and improve your cartilage quality.

How do neuromuscular exercises help? Stronger muscles help to stabilize the joint. Training your muscles to work in the right order also keeps the joints in a happier healthier position leading to less compression and other forces that overload the cartilage.

Strength training grows our muscles. The stronger they are the less force goes through your joints.

Lose just a little bit of weight

Losing 1 kg can reduce the load through your joint by 3 to 5 times. Imagine what would happen if you lost 5kg!  See a dietician to create a plan to reduce weight.

For those of you who want a science based book to do it yourself then click here .


Exercise or simply increasing your physical activity can be as simple as walking slightly more than you had the week before, cycling for 20 minutes. Moderate exercise eg 30 mins per day has been shown to be very beneficial to your cartilage.

Exercise also releases endorphins which is our bodies natural pain killer.

Exercise increases your muscles efficiency and strength. This helps create less force through the joint.

So as you can see the majority of people are not at risk of Osteoarthritis. Move regularly, exercise, look after your weight and consider strength training to keep your muscles strong and healthy. 

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