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Understanding Osteoarthritis

As physiotherapists, we get a lot of people asking questions about osteoarthritis (OA). Over 20% of Canadians suffer with arthritis, most of that being osteoarthritis. OA can be caused by many irreversible factors like age, sex and gender, but modifiable factors like previous joint damage, being overweight, and heavy work or weak muscles also can play a factor in the development of OA.

So what is osteoarthritis exactly?...

Osteoarthritis (OA), is the breakdown of joint cartilage (the tough material that covers bone), and changes to the underlying bone and surrounding joint structures.

The features of OA include:

  • Loss of articular cartilage with narrowing joint space

  • increased density and cysts of underlying bone

  • stiffening of the joint capsule

  • degeneration of meniscus, often with meniscus tears

  • osteophyte formations

The picture below shows the differences between a healthy knee joint and a knee joint with OA.

How does osteoarthritis develop?

Simply put, OA develops when the degradation of articular cartilage super-seeds the synthesis of healthy articular cartilage. Meaning, that articular cartilage is disappearing faster than it is being reproduced.

We won't bore you with the underlying metabolic process that causes these change, but know that a lot of research has been done to show how this occurs. If you want to learn more about the science you can click here.

Factors that cause cartilage degradation include:

  • Too much mechanical stimuli (i.e trauma to the joint, an overloaded joint due to work or sport, joint mal-alignment, muscle weakness, and increased body weight)

  • Too little mechanical stimuli

  • inflammation mediators (body weight and genetics)

Basically, a joint must be loaded and unloaded with good alignment to build and maintain healthy cartilage.

Who's at risk for developing osteoarthritis?

The main risk factors of developing osteoarthritis are:

  • Over the age of 40

  • Women

  • Overweight

  • Prior joint injury

  • Hard physical occupation

  • Overuse of joints in spare time

  • Family History of OA

What can I do to prevent Osteoarthritis?

Well, as you read above, a joint needs to be loaded and unloaded properly to maintain healthy cartilage. So one

of the best things you can do is exercise with good technique.

A consistent strengthen training routine, focusing on good technique, can help maintain body weight, increase muscle strength and lubricate joints with movement.

Cardiovascular activity is also really important. Cardio activity like running, swimming, and biking help to control your weight, keep your joints moving and lubricated, can increase muscle strength, and help with circulation.

All of the benefit from consistent strength training and cardiovascular activity will help prevent the development of OA.

If you'd like to learn more, suspect you may have osteoarthritis, or want help managing your osteoarthritis , book an appointment with any of our knowledgeable physiotherapists today! You can call our clinic at 604-553-1203 or book online by clicking here.


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