What is OA?
Osteoarthtritis (OA) is only one type of arthritis. This type is a degenerative condition that commonly affects the hip and knee. This degeneration occurs at the cartilage lining that covers the ends of the bones where they meet at a joint, or on the bone ends themselves. The degeneration can be caused from too much or not enough joint stress. Too much stress can include high volume training or obesity. Early onset (early 30's) OA can also occur from severe ligament injury that has required surgical repair.
As a result of excessive stress on a joint, extra wear and tear, or lack of enough stress will result in tissue breakdown. A good way to think about our joint cartilage lining and how it stays strong is the analogy of corn starch mixed with water or wet sand on the beach. When you compress the sand it becomes stable, but when you rinse water over it without compression, it begins to dissolve away and float loosely. Overall, high volume training, highly sedentary lifestyles, and diet and body weight can all play a role in prevention and care of this condition.
How does arthritis affect weight bearing status and functional mobility?
Due to the joint surfaces being affected with this condition, it can be particularly painful to move or weight bear through the affected joints. The degeneration from extra wear and tear can result in inflammation as well, which can lead to extra bone growing in the joint spaces. This can cause joint stiffness, swelling, and pain. Intolerance to movement and weight bearing can limit how much a person is active, whether that means recreationally, or to simply get around and complete daily tasks. This functional mobility is particularly important not only for basic daily needs, but also as part of psychosocial stress relief, and a sense of purpose/autonomy.
Why is avoiding movement not helpful for OA?
As reviewed earlier the joint surfaces of the knee and hip are like wet sand on the beach. It is true when a physiotherapist says, if you don't use it, you'll lose it!! This is part of why it is important to keep moving to encourage the tissues to stay strong, but not too much that we end up causing more damage to the joint surfaces. The less we move when we are in pain, the more chances that extra boney growth can occur, and the less likely the tissues will stay strong. Overall, OA responds well to heating pads and gentle movement and weight bearing, in order to prevent extra stiffness, and to circulate nutrition in and out of the joint.
How does the alter-g treadmill work?
The alter-g treadmill can certainly help those with limited mobility during weight bearing, by offloading the joints that have experienced the degradation of osteoarthritis. The air chamber seals the lower body into the treadmill compartment and fills with air. It can take up to 80% off of your body weight to begin tolerating weight bearing again This allows a safe and proper gait pattern to appear, and be engrained in the brain’s movement patterns again. This can give clients the opportunity to walk on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes and be painfree, without a limp, and gain the confidence they need to remain active individuals! The best part is, is that it works for chronic lower body conditions of all types, including OA, as well as tendonitis and other overuse injuries. For a video demo, click on this video link.
Nordic Waking Poles are a great option to maintain good walking symmetry, provide a source of stability, but also maintain independence. They can also come with ice picks for outdoors, or gripping stubs for indoor use.
Overall, the best plan of action for those with OA is to remain as active as tolerated, under the guidance of a physiotherapist or physician. Physicians can refer your care to the Chinook Bone and Joint Clinic for access to the GLA:D OA program. This program aims to provide exercise programs and triage care for OA clients.
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