Thousands of arthritis sufferers could avoid knee and hip replacement surgeries as a ‘last resort’, says top physical therapist

Thousands of patients are placed on hospital waiting lists for hip and knee replacements too early and could avoid “last resort” surgery if they better manage their condition, a leading physiotherapist said.

r Clodagh Toomey, of the University of Limerick, said the prevalence of osteoarthritis, which causes joint pain and stiffness, is increasing dramatically, now affecting one in five adults.

“There is too much joint replacement surgery because many people have been on waiting lists for years and the pain is getting worse and in the meantime don’t have access to effective treatment options like supervised exercise,” she said.

“Only a small percentage of people need surgery, not all should be on the list and are likely to be put on it far too early.

“There are options like weight management. Exercise interventions are a very important factor in deterring surgery. Physiotherapists play a major role in reducing waiting lists.

“Over 125,000 new patients are removed from orthopedic and rheumatology waiting lists each year when triaged by an experienced physical therapist.

“In some sites, the waiting time for patients has reduced from seven years to 18 months,” said Ms Toomey, a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP).

“We still have a long way to go to ensure patients have earlier access to the treatments they need before osteoarthritis progresses.”

dr Toomey and his colleague Dr. Helen French of the Royal College of Surgeons invite the public to attend a free webinar on common myths surrounding osteoarthritis.

This is available on the ISCP website this Thursday evening on the occasion of World Physiotherapy Day.

She said it’s a myth that exercise is bad for the disease.

“Both aerobic and strengthening exercises reduce pain and improve everyday activities,” she said.

“People should try to gradually increase walking time to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you love running, don’t be tempted to stop.”

She added that pain can sometimes get temporarily worse when people start a new exercise activity, but it subsides over time.

dr Toomey also advised people “not to waste your money on supplements.”

She said sports injuries are a major cause of osteoarthritis and “we need to look at the overall stress management of kids in schools and their different sports.”

“One piece of advice is that kids shouldn’t specialize in one sport at a young age,” she said. “The specialization can lead to many repetitive loads from the same related exercises and doing the same exercises too often.

“Children should be involved in a variety of sports from a young age so that there is variety in drills, exercises and skills.

“On the other hand, sedentary people are at increased risk because they don’t put stress on their joints. People with physical jobs in construction and agriculture have a very stressful job and there has to be a meeting in the middle.”

While the likelihood of developing the condition increases with age, younger adults can be affected, possibly due to a traumatic joint injury or other risks such as being overweight, inactive, being a woman, family history, or a demanding job.

She said family genetics increase a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis.

“If you have a family history of osteoarthritis, lifestyle choices like getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight will reduce or slow your risk,” she said.

X-rays are no longer recommended for diagnosis – clinical symptoms and risk factors are used instead.

Out of 10 people with an X-ray showing osteoarthritic changes, only four have pain and symptoms, added Dr. Added Toomey. Thousands of arthritis sufferers could avoid knee and hip replacement surgeries as a ‘last resort’, says top physical therapist

Fry Electronics Team

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