9 out of 10 participants reduced their body weight by more than 2.5% and experienced significant gains to their quality of life. 1 in 5 Australians live with arthritis, and osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic joint disease in Australia, affecting more than 1.8 million Australians in 2013. Knee osteoarthritis in particular is the most common cause of limited mobility in Australia, and being overweight is one of the main triggers for developing severe OA.
HCF studied 1,000 participants in their Osteoarthritis Healthy Weight for Life program, an 18-week disease management program for knee and hip arthritis sufferers. HCF?s study was part of a larger study of 2,169 OA sufferers presented at the 2015 World Congress on Osteoarthritis in May 2015. The study was conducted by experts from the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Sydney Royal North Shore Hospital, and Prima Health Solutions.
Researchers measured the general health of the participants across categories such as ability to function physically, ability to fulfil their role at work or home, ability to function socially, bodily pain, sense of vitality, and emotional and mental health. Dr Andrew Cottrill, HCF Medical Director and one of the principal coordinators of the study, reported, “The higher the weight loss, the more improvement shown in all eight quality-of-life measures.”
What is osteoarthritis?
The following information comes from factsheets by Arthritis Australia.
Osteoarthritis is also known as OA, degenerative joint disease, or degenerative arthritis. It is a condition that affects a joint – usually the knees, hips, spine, fingers and toes – and the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles around that joint. Anyone can get osteoarthritis, but it is most common in people over 45 years old or people who have had previous joint injuries.
Osteoarthritis involves inflammation of the tissue around the joint and damage to the cartilage cushioning the joint. It can also involve bony spurs growing around the joint, deterioration of the ligaments holding the joint together, and deterioration of the tendons attaching the muscles to the bones of the joint.
Symptoms include pain, swelling or stiffness in the joints that may affect your ability to do normal daily activities like climbing stairs and opening jars. Your joints might feel like they lock up or give way unexpectedly. Other symptoms can include clicking noises or grating sensations when using the joint.
Osteoarthritis is diagnosed from your symptoms, a physical examination and X-rays. Blood tests can be used to rule out other types of arthritis, but there is no blood test for osteoarthritis itself.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but it can be treated using weight loss, exercise, physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain management, and aids such as a walking stick or special shoe insoles. If your symptoms cannot be controlled using these therapies, your doctor may recommend joint replacement surgery.
Can you prevent osteoarthritis?
Doctors don?t know exactly what causes osteoarthritis, so unfortunately we can?t tell you how to prevent it. We do know that some of the main risk factors for osteoarthritis are preventable, however, such as being overweight and repetitive use of the joint. Risk factors include:
- Being female
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of OA
- Having a previous injury to the joint
- Jobs or hobbies that involve lifting heavy loads, climbing, kneeling or squatting (especially for knees and hips)
- Repetitive use of the joint (especially for hands)
Arthritis Victoria?s factsheet recommends eating foods rich in Omega-3 fats to reduce painful inflammation of the joints, such as sardines, salmon, canola oil and walnuts. If you don?t regularly eat these foods, you can take a daily fish oil omega-3 supplement instead.
Research from the University of East Anglia (UAE) in the UK in 2013 found that a compound released when eating broccoli, sulforaphane, significantly reduced cartilage damage in mice with osteoarthritis. This confirmed previous studies that showed that sulforaphane has anti-inflammatory properties, and took it a step further in showing that the anti-inflammatory action maintains cartilage strength. The study also proved this in separate lab tests using cartilage cells and tissue.
Why weight loss helps people with osteoarthritis
Being overweight increases the pain levels for a person with osteoarthritis, because of the increased weight and pressure being placed on the affected joint.
Measurable ways to track your progress towards a healthy weight are how many kilograms you weigh, and the circumference of your waistline. Our health risk is greatly increased when our waistline is 80cm or more for women and 94cm or more for men. You can also use the Heart Foundation?s BMI calculator.
Working towards a healthy weight requires eating healthier and doing enough physical exercise. There are some great free tools available to help you achieve your goals:
- Make informed food choices when you eat at the big fast food and snack food chains, with the free 8700 app, created by the NSW government. The app provides nutritional information as well as tools, calculators and converters to help you eat healthier.
- Plan your day?s meals and snacks using the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating chart, created by the Australian government?s National Health and Medical Research Council and Eat For Health.
- Plan and track your week?s worth of daily physical activity using the NSW government?s Get Healthy activity planner. The Department of Health recommends that we all do 30 minutes of exercise every day of the week.
You can manage your joint pain and track your progress with an action plan in the My Joint Pain app, created by Arthritis Australia and the Bupa Health Foundation. You can also sign up for a self-management course designed to help you create your own action plan. There are arthritis organisations in each state in Australia who can help you find a course or support group near you.
Arthritis Australia has a free helpline staffed by health professionals and specially-trained volunteers. They can give you information about different types of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, self-management strategies, courses and seminars you could attend, support groups, and other resources.
Acupuncture has also been proven to reduce knee pain in osteoarthritis. Take a look at Arthritis Australia?s page on complementary treatments for more ideas.
Osteoarthritis and health insurance providers
If you have osteoarthritis and you switch health insurers, it may be considered a pre-existing condition in some states. This means the health insurer may not pay your medical expenses during their specified waiting period for osteo, which for HCF is 2 months. However, osteoarthritis is not considered a pre-existing condition for certain travel insurance providers. Make sure you compare health insurance policies carefully if you have any pre-existing health conditions.
The Osteoarthritis Management Healthy Weight for LifeTM program is available through many health insurance providers including Bupa, Medibank and the Teachers? Health Fund, as well as HCF. A similar program called Be Good To Yourself is available through nib.