Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the United States effecting approximately 10% of men and 13% of women.

These numbers are likely to continue to increase over time due to a large aging population. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, however has its greatest prevalence in weight bearing joints to include the hip and knee. This increase in prevalence is predicted to lead to significant increases in numbers of total knee replacements over the next 20 years. According to a study published in The Journal of Rheumatology in 2019, it is estimated total knee replacements will increase by more than 400% in the United States by 2040. In addition the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2013 that treatment of osteoarthritis is the second most costly health condition treated annually with an annual cost of $16.5 billion.

No doubt the above statistics are staggering and if accurate will have significant societal and personal impacts. Many of you may be reading this and asking if there is anything that can be done to impact osteoarthritis, and ultimately, reduce the risk of having joint replacement surgery in the future. This is a great question, and the great news is the answer is YES! In order to understand what you can do, it is important to understand those risk factors that can be impacted through day to day decisions within your individual control.

Osteoarthritis has a multifactorial etiology, and can be considered the product of a combination of systemic and local factors. Some of these factors we can impact and some we cannot. Systemic factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, and genetics are all systemic factors that may leave us susceptible to osteoarthritis, however we really won’t be able to impact. However, there are other factors that are within our control to be able to positively impact including nutrition, weight, muscle weakness, and overall lifestyle.

By no means do I claim to be a nutritionist or dietician. That being said, each of us could take some basic and simple steps to better nutrition without going on the newest diet in the market. Eat more greens. Eat more fruit. Eat meat, but not at every meal. Include more fiber in your diet like beans and nuts. Make sure to stay appropriately hydrated. Include dairy, as long as not allergic, in moderation. Don’t over-complicate it. Simple steps to address improved nutrition are all you need to get started.

In recent years it has been become well accepted that sitting is the new smoking. Weight, muscle weakness, and overall lifestyle can all be negatively impacted by sedentary activities. It all comes down to one key word: Movement! Here are the facts. Over 25% of American adults sit for more than 8 hours each day. The average American watches approximately 3 hours of television every day. The average American is active less than 20 minutes per day. 60-75 minutes of moderate activity can counter the effects of too much sitting. Sedentary lifestyles will likely lead to an increase in weight and muscle weakness both contributing to an increased likelihood of osteoarthritis.

The good news is no one has to train for a marathon. The American Heart Association published updated exercise guidelines in 2019. For adults these guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. Add moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity on at least 2 days per week. Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary. Movement will improve overall mobility, strength, and reduce the risk of developing painful conditions such as osteoarthritis.

If these lifestyle and behavior modifications are difficult for you to do on your own, we encourage you to reach out to an Axes physical therapist. Physical therapy treatment has been proven to be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. In addition to helping increase strength and mobility while reducing pain, physical therapy can help you avoid surgical intervention and reduce your use of pain killers. Physical therapists address your risk factors and create a unique, personalized therapeutic regimen designed to help alleviate symptoms and slow the advancement of osteoarthritis.

Your Axes physical therapist can:

  • Thoroughly examine your symptoms, goals, and lifestyle.
  • Observe what activities are difficult for you.
  • Create a custom exercise and treatment program to improve your movement and decrease pain.
  • Use manual (hands-on) physical therapy and various modalities to improve movement of the affected joint.
  • Offer behavioral, work, and lifestyle modifications that may lessen the strain on your joints.
  • Teach strengthening and mobility enhancing exercises to address your movement and overall health.
  • Prepare a home-exercise program specifically for you to enable you to continue to improve your strength and movement even outside of physical therapy.
  • Create an exercise program for safe and sustainable weight loss, if there is a need for weight loss to reduce pressure on affected joints.

In cases of severe osteoarthritis that are not helped by physical therapy alone, surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement, may be necessary. There is always the possibility that physical therapy alone may not be enough to allow you to meet your goals. In those cases, joint replacement surgery may be necessary. If your osteoarthritis is severe enough, your Axes physical therapist can refer you to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the possibility of surgery.

I know you have all just stopped and thought: “Here we go. Another lecture about diet and exercise.” Not exactly. This is really a discussion to shed light on those factors within our control that can positively impact the potential need for invasive treatments for osteoarthritis. Movement is critical to our overall mental and physical well-being. So rather than look at this as another lecture on diet and exercise, I am hopeful this plays a small role in positively impacting and motivating you to take control of those factors that may potentially lead to future pain and disability due to negative effects of osteoarthritis.

Remember: Rest is rust! Motion is lotion!

Are you experiencing symptoms of Osteoarthritis or other joint pains? Axes is here for you. With 12, soon to be 13, Greater St. Louis area locations and an expert staff – we want to be a part of your healthcare team. Request an appointment online today!

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To schedule an appointment with any of our expert physical and occupational therapists, request an appointment online today.