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> > > > > > My back pain and osteoarthritis mean I can't exercise as much as I'd like to. Do you have any tips?

My back pain and osteoarthritis mean I can't exercise as much as I'd like to. Do you have any tips?

Q) I've been told by the physiotherapist that stiff lower back joints and muscles have compressed the discs, which are now pressing on nerves. I've been coping for almost a year now with painkillers, sleeping tablets and physiotherapy. I'm also experiencing problems with my neck. I have considerable discomfort a lot of the time and quite a lot of restrictions on my activities. Although still motivated, I can't do as much as in the past. I'm 69 and have had osteoarthritis for the past 20 years. I'd welcome your comments.
Kathleen, Hitchin, Herts (Spring 2010

A) As a fellow sufferer I sympathise with your problems. Osteoarthritis typically affects a number of joints both in the spine and the limbs. When it occurs in a knee or hip it can cause considerable disability but, on the plus side, there's usually an effective surgical solution to this problem. There's no such simple surgical solution to similar problems in the spine I’m afraid. Why is this? Well, the anatomy of the spinal joints is much more complex and the very close position of the spinal nerves makes attempts at surgery hazardous. Occasionally, when pressure on the nerves is severe, surgeons will try and relieve this pressure, but only a small percentage of patients are suitable for this procedure. All is not doom and gloom, however. It's very important to keep moving and to keep your back as mobile and strong as possible by land-based exercises and by swimming. To do this you may need to use painkillers, the strength of which can be varied according to your needs. However, it's important to realise that painkillers are given to help you exercise and to keep going.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Spring 2010 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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