“My passion for treating patients with arthritis developed after seeing the changes I can make to a person. One patient who had arrived with a walking aid while prefacing the appointment with “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do” discharged herself after a few months while walking without her stick. She stood up at the end of her first appointment feeling immediate improvement, and her demeanour was more positive at every encounter.
The treatment plan for your arthritis will be personalised to you, but you can expect gentle joint movements in the treatment room, along with soft tissue work (such as massage). It may be appropriate to work elsewhere on the body besides the arthritic joint. This approach addresses secondary problems caused by the way you’ve adapted to your arthritis. We may also find issues elsewhere that overload the arthritic joint- treating these problems can help to improve the joint health from the ground up.”
Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects cartilage. This is the smooth tissue that covers joint surfaces, and like other tissues, it is a living part of you. However, it lacks much blood supply, so it relies on the fluid within the joint to bathe it in nutrients and wash away its waste.
Cartilage can exchange its wastes for nutrients easiest when it is repeatedly squeezed and released like a sponge. The fluid is encouraged to refresh in these conditions too, so full movement is important for cartilage health. Unfortunately, once the cartilage begins to degrade, it can be a vicious cycle of pain, restriction, and consequent loss of cartilage health.
Although this all sounds quite pessimistic, there is a lot that can be done if you intervene early. The body is very good at protecting itself from discomfort, so often the first changes in the joint are asymptomatic. For example, an arthritic hip will often lose the “extension” range of movement first, and the lower back will compensate for it. This can all happen without you realising. Your osteopath’s first job is to work out which joints are affected directly, and which are feeding into the problem or being overloaded by compensation.
Treatment for the arthritic joint is usually quite straight forward. When you lay down on the treatment table and let your muscles relax, we can get a lot more movement from an arthritic joint than your body will let you do yourself. Going back to the sponge analogy, we essentially get the sponge pumping again, improving the quality of fluid in the joint and in the cartilage. We also work on the muscles that have been trying to protect the joint, releasing tension to begin to restore full movement.
Expect exercises and other advice to keep your progress on track between sessions. The better you can manage the symptoms yourself, the less frequently you’ll need to come to clinic. Some patient find that they benefit from returning every six weeks or so, whereas others can manage well enough on their own that sporadic appointments are all they need.
Blog posts and exercises:
I am planning to process recent research on OA into more understandable blog posts. Stay tuned: