Many of my osteopathy patients bring in x-rays or MRIs showing ‘wear and tear’ or ‘degenerative changes’ in one or more of their joints. Usually this means they have osteoarthritis. It shouldn’t be a scary word though, because arthritis is actually a normal part of the ageing process, affecting all of us to some degree as we get older.
Interestingly however, the amount of degeneration that shows on x-rays or scans often doesn’t correlate with the intensity of pain experienced. So for example, someone with moderate degenerative change in their spine may experience very little lower back pain, while someone with mild degeneration may be in more pain. But, I digress… that is fodder for another blog post.
Research shows that manual therapy such as osteopathy can relieve pain, increase flexibility and improve quality of life for people with osteoarthritis*. This is reflected in NHS guidelines which recommend manual therapy (stretching and manipulation), alongside exercise, weight loss and pain meds to manage symptoms. So, there are many things people can try before considering surgical options.
Before I go on, it is important to differentiate between osteoarthritis (commonly shortened to ‘arthritis’) and other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid, psoriatic or reactive arthritis. In this post I will only be discussing osteopathic treatment specifically for osteoarthritis.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of pain and disability in adults worldwide. It is most common in the over 45 age group, but can also affect younger people that have another joint condition or have suffered previous injury.
Hip and knee joints are most commonly affected by arthritis, but spines, hands, wrists, feet and ankles are also frequently affected.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition, which causes the smooth cartilage that lines the joint to wear away. Damage to this cartilage causes friction which makes movement more difficult, leading to pain, stiffness and inflammation. Over time, the cartilage erodes and bony spurs (osteophytes) develop, which further exacerbates these symptoms.
How Can Osteopathy Help?
An osteopath will release muscle tension around the affected joint, improve the range of movement and encourage better joint health by promoting blood and lymph flow to and from the area. This will reduce pain and inflammation and increase flexibility.
In addition, an osteopath will work to optimise the function of related areas of the body, to ensure that movement and loading is distributed as evenly as possible.
Osteopaths can use a variety of techniques to achieve this, depending on the individual’s situation and wishes. These include gentle articulation, massage, stretch and joint mobilisation. They will also be able to advise on strengthening and stretching exercises to do at home.
Can an Osteopath Help With Osteoarthritis in Any Joint?
Most published research focuses on hip and knee osteoarthritis as these are the most commonly affected joints, and are often the most debilitating.
However, arthritis always follows the same degenerative process, so an osteopath would apply similar principles when treating any joint. From a professional perspective, I have helped reduce symptoms in people’s back, neck, hips, knees, wrists, thumbs and big toes.
Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire. Her first class Master’s dissertation reviewed the effectiveness of manual therapy and exercise therapy in the management of hip osteoarthritis.
Over To You…
Do you suffer from osteoarthritis or know someone who does? Have you tried osteopathy or other therapies and have they helped? Or have you found other ways of managing your symptoms?