THOUSANDS of people on hospital waiting lists for hip and knee replacements could avoid the “operation of last resort” if they managed their condition better.
That’s according to University of Limerick physiotherapy researcher Dr Clodagh Toomey who says that osteoarthritis, causing joint pain and stiffness, is now affecting one in five adults.
“There are too many joint replacement surgeries as many people are on waiting lists for years with pain getting worse and no access to effective management options such as supervised exercise in the meantime,” she said.
“Only a small percentage of people need surgery, not all of them should be on the list and are probably placed on them far too early.
“There are options like weight management. Exercise interventions are a very big factor in staving off surgeries. Physiotherapists have a big role to play in cutting waiting lists.
“Over 125,000 new patients each year are removed from orthopaedic and rheumatology waiting lists when they are triaged by an advanced practice physiotherapist.
“At some sites, waiting time for patients has reduced from seven years to 18 months,” said Ms Toomey a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP).
“We still have a long way to go in ensuring patients get earlier access to the treatments they need, before osteoarthritis progresses.”
She said sports injuries are a major cause of osteoarthritis and “we need to look at the overall load management of children in schools and their various sports”.
“One tip is that children should not specialise in one sport at a young age,” she said. “Specialising can lead to a lot of repetitive strains from the same associated exercises, doing the same drills too often.
“Children should do a range of different sports when they are young so there’s variation in the drills, exercises and skill attainment.
“On the flip side, people who are sedentary are at increased risk as they are not putting any load on their joints. People with physical jobs in building and farming have very load-intensive work and there needs to be a meeting in the middle.”
Dr Toomey and colleague Dr Helen French, of the Royal College of Surgeons, are inviting the public to join a free webinar on common myths about osteoarthritis.
This can be accessed on the ISCP website this Thursday evening to mark World Physiotherapy Day.