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Exercise and funding to combat soaring rates of osteoarthritis

Photo: Exercise and funding to combat soaring rates of osteoarthritis
At present, there are more than 2.2 million Australians living osteoarthritis (OA), a joint disease which causes chronic pain, and rates continue to soar.

The escalating prevalence has prompted a National Osteoarthritis Strategy which was presented at the OA Summit in Canberra, to help combat the degenerative disease in Australia and provide cost-effective, evidence-based solutions for the millions of Australians living with the condition.

Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) member Matt Williams contributed to the Strategy implementation committee and says it focuses on both preventing and treating OA by reducing obesity rates and increasing physical activity levels, ensuring non-surgical care is the first line of treatment for sufferers.

“The simplest thing we can do is the most effective to treat OA – get moving and lose weight. I’ve worked with patients who have lost as little as five to 10% of their body weight and seen great improvements in their OA symptoms, particularly their pain levels, and their motivation to continue exercising is greatly improved as a result. The more they exercise - using the right techniques, education and supervision - the better they do,” said Mr Williams.
APA National President Phil Calvert says the Strategy is a step forward in addressing the fundamental mismatch between the burden of OA in the community and its priority in federal and private health insurance funding.

“It’s great to see our physios contributing to such an important strategy, and really reflects the respected position they hold in the health community. Physios can provide bespoke exercise programs, education and motivation to support lifestyle changes that will combat a range of chronic conditions like OA.

“I have no doubt we would see a significant decline in OA presentations if federal and private health funding provided rebates for consumers seeking this type of preventive treatment. 

“Ideally, we’ll get to a point in the future where physios can provide 100% preventive health care to patients, before chronic conditions like OA even present. It really puts consumers in the driver’s seat for their own health outcomes, and that’s good for everyone,” said Mr Calvert.

Physiotherapist Scott Wescombe believes escalation in OA could be the result of misinterpretation of scans requested in response to patients presenting with joint pain.

“Typically, a GP will make a diagnosis based on the findings from a scan. Then all treatment is based on the scan findings which usually includes unproven medication that comes with many adverse side effects.

“Sore joints can be the result of one or more factors. The most common factors I see include not enough movement, poor nutrition, a lack of sleep, high levels of stress, and beliefs about the body that trigger a fear response.

“OA rates will go down when we treat the person and not the scans solely. GP's and allied health professionals must take responsibility for getting to know each person and identify the key influencing factors - then have the skills to guide those people to implement healthy changes in their lives.

“If we optimise movement, nutrition, sleep, calmness, and beliefs, the OA rate will drop significantly and fast,” said Mr Wescombe.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.