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Should I be pushing past my Osteoarthritis Pain?

This is a question we are commonly asked at The Movement Workshop. To answer this question, it is important to firstly understand what pain is and why we feel pain.

What is pain?

Pain is not a measure of the health of our body’s structures. In fact, it is more accurate to describe pain as an alarm or warning system for our body. Pain is purposely an uncomfortable feeling so that our body can be protected from injury and to allow healing processes to occur.

Our body is constantly sensing stimuli and sending information to the spinal cord and brain. In our brain, this information is processed alongside various other bits of data (e.g. emotions, stress, environmental factors etc.). If the brain determines that protection is required, the brain sends pain outputs, and we therefore feel pain.

Most of the time, this normal pathway serves as a protective response, however, sometimes our pain response can be too sensitive and can become present even when there is no threat present. In many osteoarthritis patients, or patients with persistent pain over 3 months, the nervous system can produce more pain due to various factors.


Why do I get pain with Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease involving the whole joint – and therefore often has implications on the ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage lining the joint. Sensors will feed this information to the spinal cord and brain where the processing of information occurs and produces a pain response with the intention of “protecting” the osteoarthritic area. This often makes people with Osteoarthritis more hesitant to exercise, leading to a reduction in strength, stability and possibly weight gain. This further increases the pressure and signals from the joint, which in turn can make the pain worse in the long run.

Therefore, it is good to continue moving despite mild to moderate pain, however, pushing past an acceptable level of pain could lead to a flare up.


What is an “acceptable level of pain”?

If we use the 0-10 Pain scale (10 being the worst pain imaginable), we want pain flare ups to stay under 5/10 Pain and for no longer than 72 hours. We can modify activities so that the pain level stays within this optimal range. Doing too much activity can be cause our pain to flare up and can reduce function, however, doing too little activity will cause deconditioning and can heighten our sensitivity to pain.



My pain is constantly above 5/10, what do I do?

Speak to your health professional to see if there are treatment options to suit your case. Sometimes this may include some medication, taping, soft tissue massage, or other treatment modalities. If deemed necessary and you are not responding to conservative management, The Movement Workshop has a fantastic network of trusted Orthopaedic surgeons to gather additional opinions.

I am not sure if my pain is caused by my Osteoarthritis, what should I do?

It is always best to seek advice from health professionals, who will be able to provide a thorough assessment and can further investigate the cause of your pain.


Our GLA:D Program is dedicated to empowering our clients to feel and function better with Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis. To book a free initial GLA:D Consultation, please see our booking page.


GLA:D Program

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