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Guidelines suggest exercise is good for arthritis

picture of a swelling inside a person's leg
picture of a swelling inside a person's leg Image credit: chrisbaileyorthopaedics.com

New NHS guidelines suggest exercise should be a “core treatment” for people with wear-and-tear joint arthritis.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) osteoarthritis can be diagnosed without a scan and should not be treated with strong painkillers.

People living with the condition can experience mild pain, but for some symptoms such as stiffness and swelling can be severe making it uncomfortable to exercise, but NICE states it’s the most effective form of treatment.

Exercise strengthens the muscles and keeps the body in shape, both factors are vital for those living with osteoarthritis.

The new guidelines advise taking anti-inflammatory cream or gel or a mild painkiller such as ibuprofen if exercise causes discomfort, but not anything stronger.

There has been concern raised by arthritis charities doctors are prescribing too many painkillers instead of advising the right form of treatment, such as hip or knee replacement or exercise.

Spokesperson for Arthritis Action Dr Wendy Holden said: "Many wrongly believe that exercise can harm the joints, so this guidance is very important and will hopefully empower patients, and give them more confidence to make healthy lifestyle changes that will really help improve their pain and quality of life."

NICE state joint replacement could benefit patients with osteoarthritis and doctors should not turn patients away if they are overweight as they are still able to undergo surgery.

Tracey Loftis, from Versus Arthritis, said: "Our own research into the support given to people with osteoarthritis showed that far too many do not have their conditions regularly reviewed by healthcare professionals, and even fewer had the opportunity to access physical activity support.

"The lack of alternatives means that, in many cases, people are stuck on painkillers that are not helping them to live a life free from pain."

Dr Paul Chrisp, from NICE, said: "Muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise can have an impact on not just managing the condition, but also providing people with an improved quality of life.

"Beginning that journey can be uncomfortable for some people at first, and they should be supported and provided with enough information to help them to manage their condition over a long period of time.

"We have taken the decision to not recommend some painkillers, such as paracetamol and some opioids for osteoarthritis.

"This is because new evidence has shown there was little or no benefit. In the case of strong opioids, there was evidence that they can cause harm in the longer term, including possible addiction."

The guidelines only cover osteoarthritis and no other types of arthritis.