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Osteoarthritis vs Osteoporosis

Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis sound similar but are very different conditions. Let's explore what they are and how Physiotherapists can help.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the gradual wearing of the cartilage that covers the joint surface. The joint space can narrow and there can be extra bony growth giving the joint a rough appearance on x-rays. In mild cases the joint tends to stiffen after sitting still. In severe cases the joint can change shape, become less flexible, make sounds when it moves and be painful.


Treatment overview:

  • Keep moving - movement nourishes and lubricates the joint.

  • Build strength - strong muscles support the joint.

  • Avoid limping and guarding the joint - protecting the joint weakens and stiffens it. Use it well or lose it!

  • Use pain as a guide - some pain is okay when exercising but keep it below 3/10.

  • Weight loss - helps reduce strain on the joint.

  • Understand osteoarthritis - this blog is only a quick summary. There is so much more to learn about why 'bone on bone' is not as horrifying as it sounds, how to manage flare ups and more.

  • Heat, massage, creams and medication - use these as needed to help manage your symptoms.

  • Surgery as a last resort - Joint replacements are not always as wonderful and simple as they sound. It is a major surgery that should not be rushed into, especially when it can sometimes be avoided altogether with the right exercise.

  • GLA:D - Our Physios are trained to deliver this program that is specific for knee and hip osteoarthritis, backed by scientific evidence and incorporates all these treatments.

Unhelpful things to avoid:

  • X-rays and other imaging - these are not necessary for diagnosis.

  • Arthroscopies and cortisone injections - the evidence says they are unhelpful.

  • Braces - these are clunky, expensive, barely support the joint and tend to make you limp.


Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis affects the bone itself (not the joint). Normal bone is like a dense sponge, it is not solid but there is more bone than space. In osteoporosis the bone becomes less dense which means the overall bone is weaker and more prone to fracture.


Treatment overview:

  • GP management - your GP will lead the management for this condition with regular bone density scans and medication to support bone growth.

  • Build strength - resistance training (eg. weights, bands and even body weight exercises) help increase bone density. Physios can set you up with a safe, individualised program.

  • Eat well - a balanced diet is important, especially including calcium.

  • Get some sunshine - we know that Vitamin-D is important for bone growth, but be sun smart in the process.

  • Reduce your falls risk - if you fall you are more likely to fracture a bone so help prevent falls by removing trip hazards like rugs and having good lighting at night.

  • Balance training - balance needs practice because it naturally declines as we age. Physios can help set you up with effective exercises that are safe.

These conditions cannot be cured but there is a lot you can do to manage them. Our physiotherapists are here to support you in the process.

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