Physio: Cost of standing on two feet

Osteoarthritis is the most common disease affecting the joints of our body, particularly the hip joint.

Osteoarthritis is the most common disease affecting the joints of our body, particularly the hip joint.

We commonly see people in the clinic with complaints of morning or late afternoon stiffness and achy pain that increases at night.

Arthritic changes in the hip usually results in pain in the groin and buttock region that has gradually built up with no specific time of injury. Do you fit this description?

The ability to stand and walk on two feet gives us humans one of the most efficient ways of traveling out of any mammal on earth.

However, this genius is not without its side effects.

The hip joint is heavily used in daily life when we are walking, running, squatting, lifting, jumping and basically any other movement requiring the use of our legs. Therefore, you can imagine the amount of pressure put on our hips with the weight of our torsos bearing down on them with every movement.

Over our lifetime, this results in the gradual wear ‘n’ tear on the cartilage that surrounds the surfaces of the hip joint.

This is a normal process but in some people this wearing can occur at a faster rate either through a genetic predisposition, a tough work environment, obesity or a previous history of joint or bone injuries or disease.

Wear ‘n’ tear to the hip joint that results in pain and stiffness is termed osteoarthritis.

A healthy hip joint is one that is stable with balanced and smooth movements. This is achieved by strong, coordinated and flexible muscles surrounding the joint. If this can be maintained throughout life, then the rate of wear on the hip can be dramatically reduced.

However, a common pattern we see with osteoarthritis is pain and tightness of the muscles at the back of the hip due to overuse.

The muscles on the outside edge of the hip tend to be weak which results in pain and inflammation due to their inability to support the hip during regular daily activities.

The aim when treating an osteoarthritic hip is to stimulate joint nutrition and restore more appropriate muscle function.

Initially this may involve gentle movements and pain-free stretches of the joint and surrounding muscles to reduce spasm and pain, and restore balance to the joint.

Acupuncture or intramuscular stimulation with needles may also be effective at this stage. Once the pain and spasm has been reduced it is then crucial to begin strengthening the hip muscles with specific resistance exercises as well as pain-free walking, cycling or swimming programs.

Your doctor and physiotherapist are important initially for a diagnosis, education and most importantly working towards the goal of setting you up with a routine of exercise that allows you to effectively manage yourself.

While professional attention is important for the most effective management initially, the best long term management for osteoarthritis is ultimately through you. Good daily habits with a targeted exercise routine and a thorough understanding of what osteoarthritis is will go a long way in controlling and preventing the progression of the disease.