My clients often ask “why do I have arthritis” and “how does arthritis happen”. Now it is complex to answer and there is still a lot we don’t know, but I thought I would give you a simplistic explanation of osteoarthritis.
Our joints are lined by articular cartilage (a bit like a kitchen bench top- chip board inner material with a very thin outer layer of laminex on top- articular cartilage is like the very thin laminex coating around the bench top). This firm, rubbery material cushions the ends of the bones and reduces friction in healthy joints. This cartilage is both a-neural and a- vascular, ie no nerve or blood supply, so it has no way of clearing away waste products or alternatively, receiving nutrition. Articular cartilage instead relies on the movement of water in and out to feed it and keep it clean. Water is constantly being drawn into cartilage by the proteoglycans that reside within it. During movement and loading, water is then squeezed or forced out.
When there is a breakdown in this transportation of water in and out, then the cartilage starts to suffer. This breakdown is mostly due to not enough water being squeezed out of the cartilage. Waste products are not removed and the cartilages environment becomes toxic. This can then begin a chemical cascade and cartilage degeneration begins.
Joint cartilage needs tonnes of force everyday to squeeze water and waste products out. Exercise is a great way of facilitating this and is why exercise is so important and essential for osteoarthritis.
The good news is that early osteoarthritis is often reversible. By simply increasing joint loading forces (via exercise), water and waste products will move out and allow the improvement of the cartilages cellular environment.
So, it is not too much loading that is the culprit, but too little. Think “more wear and repair” not “wear and tear”.
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