Physio: Joint stiffness may be related to osteoarthritis

Pain and stiffness in joints are just one of many symptoms that may be related to osteoarthritis.

With temperatures dropping, I often hear patients say that they feel pain and stiffness in their joints.

This is just one of many symptoms that may be related to osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, or OA, is a disorder where there is progressive destruction of cartilage and the formation of bone at affected joints.

OA is a very common condition after 40 years of age and it may not always be symptomatic.

In fact, osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability among adults.

Aging is strongly associated with OA, however, it is important to know that aging itself does not cause OA, nor should individuals consider it to be a “normal” component of the aging process.

Trauma or injury to a joint, repetitive micro-trauma, and obesity have all been shown to be risk factors for OA later in life.

OA is more commonly prevalent in joints that are weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees, back and neck.

OA can also affect the hands and unlike rheumatoid arthritis joint deformity is not common but the joints may appear thickened.

Diagnosis for OA is usually made on a basis of signs and symptoms such as pain and swelling, loss of range of motion, morning stiffness in the joint or stiffness after not moving, and crepitis (creaking of the joint).

X-rays can also help diagnose OA. They will often show a loss of joint space or bone spurs.

Treatment for OA is targeted at reducing and controlling pain, improving physical functioning, preventing disability, and enhancing quality of life.

Physical therapy is a great non-surgical option in order to achieve some of these goals.

Research has shown that physical therapy treatments that empower individuals to actively self manage the disease have been better than any other single non-surgical treatment on its own.

Often individuals with OA will stop or decrease their exercise frequency due to joint pain.

This can create a vicious cycle because decreasing movement/exercise can weaken muscle around the joints as well as increase body weight, which can both create more force on the joint and more pain.

The take-home message is to stay active. Water exercise programs or swimming are some great ways to allow range of motion of joints with limiting compressive joint forces.

In addition to activity modification, diet, weight control, and posture all can help minimize joint degeneration. Joint protection or unloading can be achieved by using a walking aide, brace, or splint.

Using ice or heat can help with pain management.

Education on what to avoid as well as specific strengthening and stretching exercises can be provided by your physical therapist.

If you would like more information on osteoarthritis, Sun City Physiotherapy is offering a free lecture on Wednesday, Dec 5. 6 p.m., at our  St. Paul Street location in downtown Kelowna.

Please call 250-861-8056 to reserve your seat.

Fabienne Moser is a registered physiotherapist and associate at Sun City Physiotherapy’s St. Paul Street location. She can be contacted at 250-861-8056 or email

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