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Getting moving to help joint pain

There’s much said about the value of exercise for a healthier mind and cardiovascular system, but it can also help your joints, as specialists from Cairns Private Hospital explain...

Appropriate exercise can help reduce pain and improve movement – and the burning of calories can alleviate weight pressure on your joints.

Cairns Private Hospital orthopaedic surgeon Dr David Shepherd encourages people to be active, particularly in their younger years as to a degree, it’s a case of “use it or lose it”.

“The skeletal system is for moving you around,” he said.

Dr Ben Parkinson, also an orthopaedic surgeon at Cairns Private Hospital, said there is evidence that moderate to high levels of exercise while young – if avoiding injury and not overweight – can be protective against joint pain.

Even for older patients or those with existing pain, physiotherapists can help identify suitable exercises that won’t inflame or irritate the joint.

Exercise also has benefits for patients requiring joint replacement surgery, he said.

“Most patients should do exercises four to six weeks before surgery to get muscle strength in their limb and make things easier after surgery.”

Cairns Private Hospital allied health services manager and physiotherapist Sarah Mellan and her team of physiotherapists work closely with patients to help strengthen and condition muscles and tendons around the joints, whether that be for pain relief and rehabilitation, or in preparation for surgery.

“You can help prevent joint pain in the lower limbs through correct movement patterns, lengthening and strengthening of your hip, leg and ankle muscles which ultimately alleviate pressure through the affected joints.”

She said it is important to keep active with a tailored exercise program and not just immobilise a joint due to pain.

“Things like swimming, exercises in water and the static bike can help, as well as reducing higher impact or higher stress activities like jogging and hill walking.”

Ms Mellan said exercises need to be realistic, manageable and specific to the individual.

“Two exercises done properly and religiously is better than ten exercises not done properly or at all.”

“We all lead busy lives with work, kids, grandkids so even smaller things like perhaps taking the stairs instead of the lift, or getting off the bus earlier or parking a bit further away so you walk a bit more.”

“Another tip is to try to exercise in company so it becomes social and fun. Walk with your dog or ask a friend or family member to join you on a bushwalk or visit to the local pool.”

Ms Mellan said it’s important to keep everything in moderation and incrementally increase activity.

“If you haven’t done exercise in a long time, do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening, not 20 minutes in one block. Each time you might go a bit longer, or a bit faster or with a bit more resistance.”

“And remember rest is as important as exercise – you need to give your body time to recover.”