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Osteoarthritis treatment, rehabilitation and medication

It's a disease that affects more than a million Australians

A smiling young man walks and pats a laughing senior woman on the back while holding a yoga mat
A smiling young man walks and pats a laughing senior woman on the back while holding a yoga mat

If you remember spending your holidays unsupervised exploring the streets on your bike, jumping on trampolines (without nets) and the obligatory warm, sometimes curdled milk served at recess, you probably grew up in the 60s.

And, if you do remember the 60s, there’s a high chance you’ll be affected by osteoarthritis, despite all that extra calcium from the school milk program.

Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects more than a million Australians, and if you’re 65 years or over, you’re even more at risk. It occurs when tissues in your joint weaken, which can cause pain, stiffness and limitation of movement.

This disease is often called the ‘silent disease’ because you may not even know you have it until you fall and break a bone.

If you’re asking yourself 'Why is it so?', just consider us Julius Sumner Miller as we answer some of the more common questions around osteoarthritis treatments.

Can osteoarthritis be reversed?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease and currently there is no cure. However, across the globe there’s research into stem cell therapy as a treatment for the disease, as well as using ‘blockers’ to stop the osteoarthritis from worsening.

Although these treatments are still in the initial research stage, it’s an exciting start in the reversal of osteoarthritis.

A rugged up couple out for a walk in the bush

Can exercise help with osteoarthritis?

Physical therapy and exercise is an important part of managing your osteoarthritis as it helps strengthen the muscles around the affected joints which will improve its stability and flexibility. Whatever your fitness level or severity of osteoarthritis, there’s a way to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle – from strength and resistance training to water therapy and massage.

For recommendations on stretching, exercise and strength programs to suit your specific needs, a visit to the physio might be on the cards.

There are a number of nib covers that pay benefits for physiotherapy and remedial massage. To check whether you’re covered, log onto member account or view your policy via the nib App.

Are there dietary changes I can make to help with osteoarthritis?

Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the severity of the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and making some changes to your diet is a great place to start. Aim to fill your diet with fruit, vegetables, lean protein and grains – and cut out highly processed, fatty or sugary treats.

To help ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis, there may be some benefits to upping your intake of anti-inflammatory foods including green leafy vegetables, beans, flaxseeds, walnuts and salmon. However, for personalised advice, make an appointment with a dietitian to talk through your options.

Is there medication for osteoarthritis?

To help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend you take medication – the most common types of medication are pain relief (like paracetamol) and anti-inflammatories. Some people are also given the option of corticosteroid injections into their joint to help reduce the inflammation. For more on osteoarthritis medication, visit Health Direct or talk to your GP.

Can I get surgery for osteoarthritis?

If all other treatment options have proved ineffective, you might benefit from joint replacement surgery (or arthroplasty). This involves replacing the bony parts of your joints with an artificial joint or a prosthesis. However, choosing to undergo surgery is not a decision that should be taken lightly, with each procedure coming with its own set of risks and recovery times.

If you’re overweight or obese, research has found that losing weight can lead to a significant improvement in symptoms, pain relief, physical function and quality of life. That’s why at nib, we offer the Healthy Weight for Life program – aimed at helping you better manage joint pain from the comfort of your own home.

The program is available at no extra cost to eligible nib members and includes more than $800 worth of meal replacements, a portion control eating plan, an activity plan with strength, balance and mobility exercises and ongoing support to help you maintain a healthy weight. For more information on this program, visit our Health Management Programs page or email [email protected]