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Physiotherapy for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, often affecting the hands, hips and knees. Physiotherapy helps ease the symptoms of OA and improve your quality of life. 


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About your joints

Joints are areas in your body where 2 or more bones meet. Most of them are mobile joints that allow your bones to move so you can walk to the office, make a cuppa or do a few press ups. 

Joints are complex and varied. Some, like hips, knees and ankles, bear your weight when you stand and walk. Others, like your fingers, undertake a series of small, fast movement such as typing or knitting. 

A joint is made up of several different components, each working together to enable the joint to function properly. Joints consist of: 

  • Cartilage which covers the surface of the bones in the joint and helps to reduce friction when they move
  • Synovial membrane, a tissue that lines the joint and seals it into a fluid-filled capsule which lubricates the joint
  • Synovial fluid, the clear, sticky substance secreted by the synovial membrane
  • Ligaments, tough, stretchy bands of tissue that surround and support the joint, connect bones together and stop the joint moving too far
  • Tendons, strong connective tissues that connect muscles to bones and control the joint’s movements
  • Bursas, fluid-filled sacs that sit between bones, ligaments or other nearby structures to provide cushioning
  • Meniscus, a curved part of the cartilage in knees and other joints. 

What is osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis affects the whole joint, including the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. 

Because it becomes more common with age, it’s often thought of as a ‘wear and tear’ condition. However, we now think OA happens because the joint has worked overtime to repair itself and, ultimately, done itself more harm than good. 

OA affects the joint in several ways, causing: 

  • Tissue inflammation around the joint
  • Cartilage damage
  • Bony spurs to grow around the edge of the joint
  • Ligaments and tendons to deteriorate.


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What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

OA varies from one person to another and depends on which joints are affected. 

Symptoms of OA include: 

  • A slow onset of symptoms over months or years
  • Pain and stiffness in the affected joint, initially only with activity, but becoming more constant as the condition progresses
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Clicking noises, grating sensations or loss of joint flexibility
  • Difficulty with everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs or twisting jars open. 

What causes osteoarthritis?

You’re at greater risk of developing OA if you: 

  • Have overused the joint through repetitive movements 
  • Are getting older 
  • Are female
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Are overweight or obese – your joints are under stress from the extra weight while obesity may also have metabolic effects that increase the risk of OA. 

How is osteoarthritis assessed and diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor or physiotherapist may:

  • Listen to your symptoms
  • Conduct a physical examination
  • Order an X-ray to see changes to your joint
  • Do some blood tests to rule out other conditions. 

How do you treat OA?

That’s different for each person. It depends which joints are affected and how severe your symptoms are. Finding the right mix of treatment may take a little while. 

Treatment options for osteoarthritis include: 

  • Managing pain using pain-relieving medicines or psychological therapies to change your reactions to pain
  • Supports such as orthotics in your shoes, braces or walking sticks
  • Losing weight if you need to
  • Physiotherapy. 

Conservative treatments like these can often relieve your symptoms and improve your ability to function. Joint replacement surgery remains an option, which your doctors will discuss with you if they begin to think it could help. 

How can physiotherapy help with osteoarthritis?

Physiotherapists are skilled in managing musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis. 

If you have osteoarthritis, physiotherapy can help you to: 

  • Maintain or increase range of motion in the joint
  • Strengthen the muscles that support your joint
  • Improve your balance and posture
  • Recommend assistive devices. 

Come see us at Physionorth

Our skilled physiotherapists are a great source of advice and support to help you manage osteoarthritis. We’ll listen to your symptoms and frustrations and conduct a thorough evaluation then we’ll develop a personalised treatment plan to help ease your symptoms and improve your function. 

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*All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances.