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People with osteoarthritis in their knees could be experiencing a poorer quality of life due to an increased fear of movement which often accompanies the condition.

That’s the key finding from a new study carried out in America, which concluded that people who moved less through fear of pain and instability could actually be making their condition worse through self-enforced inactivity.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, often called ‘wear and tear arthritis’, because it tends to affect joints which have had a lot of use and is normally (but not always) age-related. It is most frequently found in the hands, knees, hips, feet and spine. It is estimated that 8.75 million people in the UK have some form of osteoarthritis and a third of people over 45 have sought treatment for the condition.

It can be particularly challenging if it is in the hips and knees, as this can make it difficult and painful to move around. For many people the temptation is to begin moving less, when in fact it is vital to keep exercising.

The American Study, carried out by the University of North Carolina, looked in particular at people with osteoarthritis in their knees and how it impacted on them leading a less active lifestyle. A total of 350 volunteers took part in the study and were asked to evaluate their fear of movement, as well as providing details of their age, gender, ethnicity, pain levels and general daily activities.

Other trends were also assessed, such as the duration of pain and other symptoms, effects on mood and depressive traits, effects on balance and fear of falling, and history of injuries. The results were measured against the ‘Brief Fear of Movement Scale’ – a tool which medical practitioners in America use to identify factors linked to osteoarthritis which can limit mobility through anxiety.

It was found that 77% of those in the study identified with at least one factor on the Brief Fear of Movement Scale, while more than a third (36%) identified with three or more factors, which suggested they had a pronounced fear of movement. It was found that a patient’s age, daily activity levels, history of depression and capacity for exercise all had a big influence on how strongly he or she feared movement.

However, many of the people who were actively restricting their movement could be helped through a range of interventions enabling them to overcome their fear and become more active, which would in turn improve their condition. In some cases, better pain management was needed, but in many others it was enhanced counselling, advice and support.

A spokesman for the research team reported: “Fear of movement was common among patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, and this could negatively impact physical activity. Psychological variables were significantly associated with fear of movement, suggesting behavioural and psychological interventions may decrease fear of movement and improve outcomes among individuals with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.”

Reacting to the study, a spokesman for Arthritis Research UK, Devi Rani Sagar, said: “More than four million people in the UK live with knee osteoarthritis, which causes pain, isolation and fatigue. We know that the chronic pain caused by arthritis can be a barrier to keeping active. This understandable fear of movement, caused by the pain someone can feel, is a factor in stopping people from including exercise in their daily lives.

“Exercise is incredibly important and we are committed to helping people remain active. We have developed specialised exercises tailored specifically for people with knee osteoarthritis to help people build up the confidence to exercise. We also recommend that a person with their arthritis speak to their GP if they are worried about exercising.”

• One of the biggest obstacles for people with osteoarthritis in their knees and hips can be the stairs in their home, and this is one place where exercise in definitely not recommended. A fall on the stairs, perhaps caused by sudden pain or loss of balance, can have catastrophic consequences.

Investing in an Acorn Stairlift instantly removes the obstacle of stairs, enabling you to glide smoothly between the floors in your home in safety and comfort. The energy you save can then be channelled into exercising in a controlled way and in a safe environment.

Acorn also offers the option of a Sit/Stand Stairlift which, as its name suggests, can be used either sitting down or in a standing position, with sturdy handrails for additional support. This model is ideal for people who find it difficult to bend at the knees, or for use in any setting where people with different needs will be using the stairlift.

For full details or to speak with an expert stairlift advisor, call Acorn today on 0800 073 9775.

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