So often people label joint stiffness as arthritis especially Osteoarthritis without having any diagnostic testing.

Arthritis is an unspecific ‘umbrella’ term – under which all of the chronic, musculoskeletal conditions will come under. Each condition will have its own specific name. Arthritis is a chronic condition, but in some cases may present acutely. When this happens they are referred to as disease ‘flares‘.

There are two main categories of arthritis:

Degenerative (non-inflammatory) arthritis – which develops when the cartilage (which covers the ends of the bones and provides a cushion and ‘gliding’ surface) in the joint erodes, the most common example is osteoarthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis – which results when, for an unknown reason, the immune system mistakenly attacks the structures in the joint. It can also affect organs of the body including the heart, lungs, eyes and skin. An example of this type is rheumatoid arthritis.

Other types of arthritis include Gout, Fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

All types of arthritis have two common features, they cause damage to the joint/s and result in symptoms including stiffness and pain. Arthritis can affect different parts of the joint structure and may affect nearly every joint in the body to a greater or lesser degree.

There are many contributing causes and/or risk factors that can predispose/contribute to developing a type of arthritis. Some risk factors may be non-modifiable (such as having a genetic predisposition to the condition) and others may be modifiable (such as diet-related or smoking).

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, accounting for more than 80% of all diagnoses of arthritis. With approximately 1.8 million Australians living with OA. This number is expected to rise exponentially as rates of obesity, inactivity and sedentary lifestyle behaviours increase. OA is now known as a condition that affects the whole joint – with features including breakdown of the articular cartilage (roughening and thinning), the development of bone spurs (osteophytes) at the edges of the bones as they try to repair damaged tissue, inflammation/irritation of joint lining – which then produces excess synovial fluid, and thickening of tendons and ligaments which inflicts pain.

Previously, OA was thought to be a degenerative condition with the primary feature being the ‘wear and tear’ of the cartilage, when a joint is under load. Research now indicates this is incorrect.

Research now shows joint structures, including the cartilage, ‘love load’ – but only when it is the right type of load.

Current research suggests that body composition may play a role in the development of OA. A person with more lean muscle mass, are less likely to develop OA (as long as they have not badly injured their joints or have a strong genetic predisposition to developing the condition). The reason being, the more load (through movement) we can put our cartilage through, the more nutrients it gets through compression. It does not have a blood supply so this process delivers its nutrients to keep it alive and well.

On the other hand, having a higher percentage of body fat can degrade the cartilage over time, increasing the likelihood of arthritis progression. This is due to the Fat (adipose) cells secreting more inflammatory chemicals, (which they do naturally as part of their life cycle) which can impact the health of the cartilage.

It is very important to know what type of arthritis is present so that health professionals can respond effectively and manage the condition.

Secondly, participating in specific exercises is key! Exercise helps to load the joint properly and strengthen the surrounding structures (to deload the joint). Participating in resistance style activity also helps to grow muscle mass and decrease overall inflammation.

Need help or guidance in learning the right management techniques for your arthritis? Speak to our Exercise Physiologist Jen here at Canberra Allied Health who is our in house expert!

Canberra Allied Health are registered NDIS providers and help NDIS participants achieve incredible outcomes for a range of conditions.
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