Osteopathy and Arthritis

(originally published in Chippenham Town Crier & various parish magazines)

Osteopaths spend a large amount of time dealing with the pain and suffering of arthritis. Many people mistakenly assume that arthritis is untreatable and that they must learn to live with their symptoms. However, in many cases, osteopaths are able to help considerably. Pain relief and lifestyle advice can improve the quality of life for many arthritis sufferers.

Broadly, arthritis can be divided into two types – degenerative and inflammatory. Degenerative or OSTEOARTHRITIS is the commonest, sometimes called ‘wear & tear’, and usually affects weight-bearing sites such as hips, knees or spine, but can also affect smaller joints such as fingers, toes or even the jaw. The smooth cartilage that covers joint surfaces wears away, allowing the bone surfaces to rub together leading to inflammation. Joint movement becomes increasingly painful and restricted.

There are many popular misconceptions about osteoarthritis. For example: “Degenerative change on x-rays means that nothing can be done. Pain killers or anti-inflammatories are the only answer”. In fact, wear and tear is normal after the age of 35. Whilst osteopathic treatment will not reverse these changes, it can do a great deal to alleviate the debilitating effects.

Inflammatory arthritis, such as RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, is generally a ‘disease’ affecting not just the joints but the whole body. Like osteoarthritis, it produces severe pain, stiffness and often deformity of joints. Rheumatoid arthritis often arrives suddenly with several painful, ‘hot’ and swollen joints. Sufferers generally feel unwell with ‘flu-like’ symptoms, loss of appetite, and possibly dry or red eyes. The only way to be sure that you have rheumatoid arthritis is to have a blood test, so a visit to the GP may be advisable.

Once the acute inflammatory phase has died down, osteopathy can be helpful in reducing the effects of the condition. The GP will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs that will help the symptoms but other forms of treatment, such as acupuncture or homoeopathy, can often be helpful.

Osteopathic treatment of arthritis is aimed at improving mobility and reducing inflammation by using gentle, manual techniques on joints, muscles and ligaments, in addition to providing positive advice on lifestyle and diet which, in some people, may be a factor in their arthritis.

Osteopathy is not a cure-all, and there are situations where surgery may be necessary – such as hip or knee replacement – by referral via the GP to an orthopaedic surgeon. In these cases, osteopathy can help with rehabilitation after surgery.