When attempting to treat osteoarthritis, it’s important to have a full understanding of it. There are a number of misconceptions regarding osteoarthritis that should be addressed. The first of which is the concept that osteoarthritis is a “normal” part of the aging process, and thus inevitable. Although it is true that as we age our body’s ability to heal itself decreases, the rate at which these changes occur is solely under our control. It is inevitable that several times a year a patient will come into our office saying that their PCP told them that based on their x-ray findings, they had arthritis and that it was “normal” for their age. I will usually reply “then go back and ask your doctor why I can show him an x-ray of a 75-year-old person with virtually no arthritis and a 30-year-old former football player or rodeo professional with 3-4 times the amount of arthritis.” This is because the true cause of osteoarthritis is the accumulation of microtrauma to your joints as a direct result of faulty movement patterns. This is a very simple concept to grasp yet ignored by most people. Let’s use a car as an example. If you have a new set of tires and make sure they are properly rotated and aligned (efficient movement patterns) there is a very good chance they will last for nearly 100,000 miles. Yet if you drive the car recklessly and pay no attention to alignment and care of the tires, there is a very good chance that they will prematurely wear out (arthritis). In the example given to the patient above, of course, it would make sense that the football player or rodeo rider would have more arthritis at a younger age due to the large accumulation of trauma within their joints over a shorter period of time. Take care of your joints by learning to move correctly and efficiently thus prolonging their structural integrity.
The second misconception I would like to address is the notion that once diagnosed with osteoarthritis, one is doomed to a life of pain and disability with the only remedy being drugs or surgery. Again, this is simply not true. It is a proven scientific fact that only a minimal amount of cartilage is necessary for proper joint function. So even if you have some arthritic changes, you have the ability to rectify your biomechanics and movement patterns which will allow you to function at a higher level and in most cases, with minimal pain. Of course, if you allow these bony changes to progress beyond repair, then you leave yourself little options.
Lastly, it is important to understand that if you exercise, especially at a high level, you are MORE susceptible to arthritis than your sedentary counterparts. Yes, unfortunately, this is true. Let’s take the example of the car and its tires from above. If you have a car that is out of alignment (faulty biomechanics/movement patterns) and you take the car consistently on the freeway at a high speed, wouldn’t it make sense that you would experience a blowout (injury) or quicker wear (arthritis) than your counterparts that barely drove and when they did, drove slowly? This is definitely not to say that you should avoid exercise. I am simply saying that you must be more aware of your mechanics than a sedentary individual. Dr. Christopher Wood is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician and DNS Exercise Instructor in North Phoenix whose practice focuses on functional movement assessment and rehabilitation geared towards dynamic stability.