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People with arthritis told to exercise more and use painkillers less

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People with arthritis are being urged to lose weight and exercise more rather than rely on painkillers as the main therapies for their condition.

NHS guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says people who are overweight should be told their pain can be reduced if they shed the pounds.

Aerobic exercise such as walking, as well as strength training, can ease symptoms and improve quality of life. Exercise programmes may initially make the pain worse, but this should settle down, the guidance suggests.

The guidelines also give recommendations on the use of medicines, such as offering non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but not offering paracetamol, glucosamine or strong opioids.

NICE said there was a risk of addiction with strong opioids, while evidence suggests little or no benefit for some medicines when it comes to quality of life and pain levels.

The draft guidelines say people can be offered tailored exercise programmes, with the explanation “doing regular and consistent exercise, even though this may initially cause discomfort, will be beneficial for their joints”.

Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at the charity Versus Arthritis, said: “We’ve seen first-hand the benefits that people with osteoarthritis can get in being able to access appropriate physical activity, especially when in a group setting. Something like exercise can improve a person’s mobility, help manage their pain and reduce feelings of isolation.

“But our own research into the support given to people with osteoarthritis showed that far too many do not have their conditions regularly reviewed by healthcare professionals, and even fewer had the opportunity to access physical activity support.

“The lack of alternatives means that, in many cases, many people are stuck on painkillers that are not helping them to live a life free from pain.

“While we welcome the draft Nice guidelines, healthcare professionals need further resources and support to better understand their role in promoting treatment like physical activity for people with osteoarthritis.

“There is clearly a need for people with arthritis to be given a bigger voice so that their health needs are not ignored.”

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Source: The Guardian, 29 April 2022

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