Arthritis patients will be told by the NHS to lose weight and exercise as primary therapies for their condition under new clinical guidelines.
Physical activity may be a better option for pain relief than pain relievers such as paracetamol, according to the health watchdog.
Starting exercise programs may initially make the pain worse, but this should subside, notes the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
The guidelines give recommendations on medication use, such as offering nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but not paracetamol or strong opioids.
Physical activity may be a better option for pain relief than painkillers such as paracetamol, health watchdog says
Dr Paul Chrisp, from Nice, said: ‘This is because new evidence has shown there is little or no benefit to people’s quality of life, pain or psychological distress and in particular in the case of strong opioids, there was evidence that they can cause longer-term harm, including possible addiction.
Over 10 million people in the UK suffer from arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease.
In the guide, physicians are urged to self-diagnose osteoarthritis without further investigation in people aged 45 or older who have activity-related joint pain.
Patients also must not have morning joint stiffness or morning stiffness that lasts no more than 30 minutes to be diagnosed this way.
The draft guideline says people can be offered tailored exercise programs, with an explanation that “exercising regularly and consistently, even if it may initially cause discomfort, will benefit their joints”.
Over 10 million people in the UK suffer from arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease
Long-term exercise also increases its benefits, the guideline adds.
When it comes to weight loss, people will be told that “any amount of weight loss is likely to be beneficial, but losing 10% of your body weight is likely to be better than 5%”.
Individuals may also be referred for hip or knee replacement surgery if their condition cannot be managed by other means, and referrals should not be delayed due to age, gender, or obesity .
Dr Chrisp added: ‘Osteoarthritis can cause people discomfort and prevent them from undertaking some of their normal daily activities.
“However, there is evidence that shows that muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise can have an impact not only on disease management, but also on improving people’s quality of life.
“Beginning this journey can be uncomfortable for some people at first, and they should be supported and provided with enough information to help them manage their condition over a long period of time.
“While topical and sometimes oral NSAIDs remain an important treatment option for osteoarthritis, we have made the decision not to recommend certain pain relievers, such as paracetamol and certain opioids for osteoarthritis.”
Tracey Loftis, policy and public affairs manager at charity Versus Arthritis, said: ‘We’ve seen firsthand the benefits people with osteoarthritis can get from being able to access appropriate physical activity, particularly when they are in a group.
“Something like exercise can improve a person’s mobility, help manage their pain and reduce feelings of isolation.
“But our own research into support for people with osteoarthritis showed that far too many people were not having their condition regularly reviewed by healthcare professionals, let alone the ability to access arthritis support. ‘physical activity.
“The lack of alternatives means that in many cases people are stuck on painkillers that don’t help them live a pain-free life.
“While we welcome the draft Nice guidelines, healthcare professionals need additional resources and support to better understand their role in promoting treatments such as physical activity for people with osteoarthritis.
“It is clear that people with arthritis need to be more vocal so that their health needs are not ignored.”