A team approach is recommended when getting advice on how best to manage your osteoarthritis (OA). Here are the various professionals who make up an OA team.
Your Primary Care Doctor/ General Practitioner will assess and diagnose your OA. Your first “go to” professional will also advise you on a pain management plan that will include lifestyle modifications, exercise, weight loss, physical therapy, and, if needed, analgesics. After the plan is in motion, your doctor will monitor your symptoms and your response to the treatments. When appropriate, this professional will refer you to other health professionals that can assist you.
Physiatrists are specialist doctors with expertise in physical medicine and rehabilitation. A physiatrist may lead and co-ordinate your care, focusing on making sure you can continue your daily activities.
Rheumatologists are specialist doctors with expertise in joint conditions including OA. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist if unsure about your symptoms and considers you require further assessment.
Physiotherapists/Physical Therapists can prescribe an individualised and suitable exercise program to strengthen the muscles around your joint to reduce pain and make it easy for you to move again. They can also teach you techniques to help relieve your pain.
Exercise Therapists can assist with your physical activity and exercise prescription. They can also help with recommendations for exercises to help you manage your weight.
Podiatrists can assess how you walk and provide exercises and shoe inserts to reduce the pressure on your ankles, knees, and hips. They can also give you advice about the best footwear for you.
Occupational Therapists can give you recommendations about modifications or equipment for your home or workplace that can make it easier for you to continue doing your daily activities.
Dieticians/Nutritionists can give you personalised advice to help you lose or maintain your weight.
Orthopaedic Surgeons are professionals who come into the picture later in the progression of OA when other treatment avenues have been explored. For instance, your primary care doctor may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon if your pain and function are not responding to other treatments. An orthopaedic surgeon will examine you, advise on the best treatment, and perform surgery if necessary.
The take-home message of the team approach is that you are not alone. Wonderfully qualified professionals will help you manage your OA so you may live your life to the fullest. Stay positive!