Understanding our joints: Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the progressive wear and tear of the cartilage in a given joint that gradually sets in over many years (and even decades). The cartilage that normally protects joint surfaces gradually thins with the condition of osteoarthritis. As a result, the natural lubricant inside the joint will be reduced, which over time can lead to pain and stiffness during movement and compressive stress on that joint. This joint degeneration can affect different joints, but most often affects the knees and hips. 

When stiffness gets involved 

Osteoarthritis remains a phenomenon of normal joint aging. On the other hand, traumatic injuries to a joint or exposure to unusual or poorly dosed mechanical stresses can accelerate the degeneration process. This is often when the loss of joint mobility and pain sets in. An interesting fact to note is that the pain associated with osteoarthritis is not proportional to the severity of the osteoarthritis itself, but rather proportional to the extent of the ankylosis (stiffness) in the joint that has set in. Thus, a person with a severe level of osteoarthritis seen on an X-ray, but who maintains good joint mobility, will be in much less pain than someone with mild osteoarthritis with a significant loss of joint mobility. 

The importance of physical activity 

We cannot make osteoarthritis that has settled in a joint go away, but the pain and stiffness in the joints can be greatly reduced. You should know that physical activity and movement of large amplitudes are essential to stimulate the natural lubricant of the cartilage in our joints. The more we move, the better the joint lubrication, the more comfortable it is to move and the better the mobility of our joints. The reverse is unfortunately also true: a sedentary lifestyle leads to a decrease in joint lubrication, which increases discomfort during movement. The more it hurts, the less you want to move. If you move less, joint stiffness sets in, and, as mentioned above, the stiffer the joint, the greater the pain. It is therefore essential not to fall into this bad vicious circle and to find a way to move regularly and live an active lifestyle as much as possible! 

Where to start? 

Now, what can we do to be more active when we are in pain? First, we have to find activities that are well balanced according to our abilities. The secret is to start gradually in small quantities, but do it as often as possible (a little bit every day). Slight discomfort can be normal when starting a new activity, however the discomfort should not persist over time. Thus, no increase in pain or stiffness should be felt the next day. Priority should be given to cardiovascular activities involving large joint movements such as cycling, aqua fitness, walking, etc. Then, depending on the tolerance and the speed at which the cartilage adapts to the stress of the activity, we can gradually increase the duration of the activity as well as the level of difficulty (for example, add a few seconds of running while walking). Finally, a few joint mobility exercises can complement the training to optimize the condition and minimize the symptoms related to osteoarthritis. 

In conclusion, if you have pain and stiffness related to osteoarthritis, do not hesitate to consult your physiotherapist so that he can guide you in your progress of physical activities and exercises. Moving is the key to living well and staying active despite osteoarthritis.