Men's health

Bethany Aitken, clinical services manager at AXA Health



27 September 2023

Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the joints and is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.1 The good news, however, is that there's plenty we can do to ensure our quality of life isn't compromised.

Bethany Aitken, clinical services manager at AXA Health, highlights that the most effective approach focuses on self-management. This means doing what you can to preserve function and mobility of joints, like regular exercise, controlling body weight and treating injuries as and when they occur.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, for example shoulders, knees or your hands, but as it can take a long time to develop, there is time to be proactive.

It involves the loss of cartilage, the protective surface over the end of the bone, so that joints become swollen and painful.

A controlled exercise programme can help to control symptoms. A physiotherapist may offer mobilisation and stretching, and tips for pain relief, such as putting ice on the joint if it flares up, to help bring down any swelling.

Osteoarthritis can be a vicious circle, particularly among older people. So, how can we help ourselves?

Self-help tips to help manage your symptoms:

Tip one: lose weight for lower limb and spinal arthritis

If you’re overweight, losing weight is helpful if you have arthritis in your knees. Exercise, weight loss and wearing the right shoes can reduce the need for medication and injections, and help prevent surgery.

Ossur bracing might be helpful for specific types of arthritis in the knee.

Tip two: exercise and building muscle strength

There's much more emphasis on movement and muscle-building to help alleviate the effects of arthritis. Building up muscle strength improves the function of the joint and specific types of exercise can also improve balance for the lower limbs.

Exercise also slows down the effect of deterioration in joints due to ageing. Try low-impact exercises, such as cycling or rowing. Exercising in water is an excellent solution as your buoyancy takes stress and weight off your joints.

In fact, hydrotherapy has become a common form of treatment for arthritis. The warm water in a hydrotherapy pool soothes muscles and enables people to do exercise they couldn't do on dry land.

>Read more Being active with arthritis

Tip 3: Get moving

If exercising in a gym isn’t your thing, then try dancing (especially if it involves moving your arms and hands) t'ai chi, yoga or even playing with your dog or grandchildren.

Any activity that helps with dexterity, balance, firms up muscles, eases stress, and keeps the body supple.

To supplement or not to supplement...

Many people with osteoarthritis, or those who have a few early twinges, try supplements, such as:

Evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of these. With glucosamine, for example, some trials say it is helpful, and others claim it is not - while people who take them also report different results.

Replacing joints may be a final option if arthritis is disabling. However, alongside someone not being able to function normally (especially in activities of daily living, such as washing, dressing and being able to move around), there has to be X-ray evidence of severe joint degeneration to justify a joint replacement.

Whenever a joint still has life in it, the general advice is to try and keep it going.

5 ways to help minimise the risk of osteoarthritis:

1. Posture

Review how you use your body - what position do you spend your day in - are you sitting at a computer? How do you sleep at night? The Alexander Technique3 or yoga can be great for gaining awareness about where you are putting strain on your body and changing your existing habits.

2. Footwear

Wear shoes that absorb shock, such as trainers or running shoes, to minimise impact on weight bearing joints such as hips, knees and ankles. If you wear high heels you are putting enormous strain on your hips and knees.

3. Core stability

Pilates can help strengthen muscles in the tummy and buttocks which in turn protects the lower body.

4. Weight control

Being overweight puts strain on all your joints, but especially your hips, knees, ankles and feet. If you’re looking to lose weight, our article, How to lose weight well looks at the science behind weight loss and offers some top tips to help.

5. Exercise regularly

Exercise is essential for overall mental and physical health. It will help strengthen muscles around joints and can really boost your overall sense of wellbeing – or your feelgood factor, as we like to call it!

Exercising outdoors boosts the benefits of exercising still further, as our article explains. If the thought of exercising leaves you cold, take a look at Getting active your way for lots of ideas on how to get moving more in a way you enjoy.

Additional support

If you’re an AXA Health member you can get specialist support for problems affecting the muscles, bones or joints, without the need for a GP referral, through our Muscle, bones and joint support service, for over 18s only.

They’ll arrange for you to talk to a physiotherapist who can assess your symptoms, talk to you about what they could mean, and help you plan what to do next. Check your cover online or speak to our claims team for details on how to access this service. Contact us here.


  1. Osteoarthritis – NHS
  2. What is green-lipped mussel? - Versus Arthritis
  3. Alexander technique - NHS

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