This is a very good question – it’s hard to imagine how any treatment other than surgery could reverse the effects of osteoarthritis in the joints. Most of us understand that osteoarthritis occurs as the protective cartilage at the ends of the bones gradually wears down over time. This is only part of it however and is not usually the most painful part. Osteoarthritis can also involve inflammation and swelling of the joint tissues and deterioration of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that move the joint and hold it together. Joints are quite complex and what we see on an x-ray rarely gives us the full explanation for the pain and restrictions we are feeling.
Let’s consider how osteoarthritis develops in the first place. Many people believe that their knee pain is a result of playing a lot of sports or doing hard physical labour when they were younger. They may have had a few injuries and they think this is the cause of their arthritis. This may be true but it is more likely to be true if their injury caused them to stop exercising. Osteoarthritis is associated with older age but as we age we tend to slow down and reduce our physical activity, some may put on weight and eat foods that can cause inflammation in the joint tissues. As this puts more load on our joints we may change the way we walk and move putting more stress on particular muscles and joints. This is usually when the symptoms of joint pain and stiffness begin.
Physiotherapy treatment can help you reverse these factors to return to normal function, reduce swelling, stiffness and inflammation and help to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons so they can support the joint properly. There is no cure for the degeneration of the cartilage of the joints but many of the worst symptoms of osteoarthritis can be resolved without any need for surgery. This will depend on the severity of the osteoarthritis so the sooner you start the better your results. Numerous studies have shown that just losing a few kilos, adding some regular daily exercise and seeing your physio for some specific strengthening exercises can improve pain scores and quality of life significantly.
Your physio can give you individual advice on what may be causing the stress on your joints and which lifestyle modifications may be helpful and can provide some pain relief techniques to help you get moving again.