Do you suffer with pain and stiffness in your joints that is worse first thing in the morning? Does it get better with mild activity as the day goes on? Do you want to be active, but find that too much activity sometimes increases your pain? If you’ve answered yes to two or more of these questions, you most likely are suffering with osteoarthritis (OA), a common joint disorder that is due to aging and ‘wear and tear’ on the joints.
Cartilage is the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions your bones at the joints, and allows bones to glide freely over one another. In OA this cartilage breaks down and wears away allowing the bones to rub against each other. This causes pain and stiffness, and may lead to formation of bony spurs around the joint. In an effort to minimize these symptoms, the body adapts by reducing movement at the affected joint and this leads to ligament and muscle weakness. As an analogy, think of a rusty door hinge. Door hinges are meant to allow the door to open and close freely, but if they are not used for a prolonged period of time, they become stiff, creaky and form rust along the ‘joint’ surfaces. This is not unlike what occurs in the human body over time. The symptoms of OA usually appear in middle age, and almost everyone over 70 will experience some symptoms, even if minor.
The diagnosis of OA is made through history of the presenting symptoms and is confirmed by x-ray. Before the age of 55 it affects men and women equally; after 55 it affects women more often than men. While OA is not a life-threatening disease, it can significantly impact your quality of life as well as independence.
Many people can manage their symptoms with specific exercise focused on improving both joint mobility and muscle strength around the joints. Regular activity that improves the cardiovascular system such as walking and biking also helps to manage the pain and stiffness associated with OA. If you find that exercise alone isn’t decreasing your symptoms, or that exercise is increasing your pain, joint manipulation may be another option. This is a very gentle yet effective technique of mobilization of the affected joints using the hands. Studies have shown that manipulation together with appropriate exercise can be a very effective treatment for osteoarthritis.
If you suffer with OA or think that you might have OA, speak with your doctor before you start an exercise program, and ask if manipulation is the right choice for you. For more information visit www.backcarecanada.ca, a resource designed for patients by a multidisciplinary health care team of back specialists.‘Dr. Suzanne Bober graduated from National College of Chiropractic in 2000. Along with two Bachelor degrees in Human Kinetics and Human Biology, she is a Fellow of the Chiropractic Specialty College of Physical and Occupational Rehabilitation and she is a faculty member of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and owner and clinical director of Harbourfront Chiropractic in Toronto.