Increased exercise and weight loss should be among the first treatment options for Australians with knee osteoarthritis, as per a new Clinical Care Standard released today by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association.

A multidisciplinary working group of experts across 14 leading health, medical and consumer organisations contributed to the Commission’s work in developing the standard, which is designed to help patients get the best care for their chronic knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

About 2.1 million Australians are currently living with osteoarthritis, which is a debilitating condition most often seen in people over 45. It causes pain and can make it hard to do everyday tasks such as walking upstairs. The number of people with osteoarthritis is expected to grow as our population ages.

The new Osteoarthritis of the Knee Clinical Care Standard endorsed by the APA highlights less invasive, best-practice options as the gold standard for high-quality care, including encouraging patients to lose weight and do more exercise, as well as using pain relieving medicines. Only when a patient’s symptoms no longer respond to these more conservative management options should referral to an orthopaedic surgeon and knee replacement surgery be considered.

Patients who are overweight have double the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, whilst obese patients have four times the risk. Given these alarming statistics, Australian Physiotherapy Association member Associate Professor Ilana Ackerman, who was part of the Clinical Care Standard working group, said “Patients with osteoarthritis of the knee are encouraged to manage their condition in consultation with their healthcare team, which ideally should include a GP and physiotherapist.

“By making relatively simple lifestyle changes like modifying their diet, increasing their physical activity and commencing an appropriate exercise program – with a focus on improving knee strength and muscle control – people with knee osteoarthritis can achieve reductions in their pain and improvements in overall quality of life.

“With a significant proportion of knee replacements currently being carried out on patients whose weight contributes to their osteoarthritis, it makes sense to look at non-surgical management options first. Physiotherapists are ideally suited to design and monitor tailored exercise programs for people with osteoarthritis and provide appropriate education and self-management support.”

The new standard is being launched today by Commission Chair Professor Villis Marshall AC at the General Practice Conference and Exhibition in Sydney. ABC national medical reporter Sophie Scott will MC a panel discussion involving clinical experts, including Ilana Ackerman, and a patient with the condition.

The new Clinical Care Standard can be read in full here.


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