Dr. O’Brien on Joint Health: “Movement is Medicine”

Written by Koru Health Editorial Staff

Updated May 7, 2024

For years, osteoarthritis was thought to be “wear and tear” of the joints, a natural consequence of aging.

Dr O’Brien, a professor in physiotherapy, sat down with Judy Bailey to dispel this myth and explain how movement can soothe our joints.

“My own experience with a rugby injury led me to a profound realization—the importance of continual movement for joint health,” Dr. O’Brien shares.

After dislocating his shoulder, he learned first-hand that “if I didn’t keep moving it, it actually started to feel sore and achy again.”

Dr. O’Brien explains that the body responds to joint use with repair mechanisms similar to how muscles strengthen from exercise.

“The body will naturally respond to that in a positive way,” he states, emphasising that movement facilitates strengthening rather than exacerbating joint wear.

Dr O’Brien is on a mission to shift the narrative from avoidance of activity to encouragement of exercise as a fundamental treatment for osteoarthritis.

“It’s very hard to convince somebody to exercise if they think they’re going to wear their joint out,” he notes, citing a significant study from 2003 that demonstrated the unequivocal benefits of physical activity for those with joint pain.

Addressing common misconceptions, Dr. O’Brien recalls a misleading campaign that likened joint pain to having glass in the joints, which only instilled fear.

“I remember challenging the people who did that because it’s massively misleading. It sticks in people’s brains, but for all the wrong reasons,” he criticises.

Conclusively, Dr. O’Brien’s message is clear and hopeful: “Movement is medicine. Even if it’s only two minutes you can do, start with two minutes and build up. Anything is better than nothing. The best exercise is the one you actually want to do.”

Through these insights, Dr. O’Brien not only challenges outdated beliefs but also encourages a healthier, more active lifestyle for those affected by osteoarthritis.

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