By Jeffrey B. Driban, PhD, ATC, CSCS
Many athletic trainers have stories about former athletes who return to their clinic 10 years after graduation and mention problems with chronic joint pain. The patient tells stories about a knee swelling after a busy day as well as knee pain and dysfunction limiting their ability to be active, to walk stairs at work, and to play with their kids. It is not surprising that these patients often report a 40% reduction in their quality of life, high levels of psychological distress, and moderate-to-considerable work disability (1). This patient is likely to live over half of their life with a chronic painful and disabling condition – osteoarthritis. Despite the perception that osteoarthritis is a simple wear and tear process that is common among older adults, many people develop osteoarthritis in the prime of their life and there are steps athletic trainers can take to reduce a patient’s risk for osteoarthritis.
The Journal of Athletic Training recently published the Athletic Trainers’ Osteoarthritis Consortium’s (ATOAC) consensus statement on the role of athletic trainers in preventing and managing posttraumatic osteoarthritis. The ATOAC encouraged athletic trainers to support and implement evidence-based injury-prevention interventions to reduce the risk of joint injuries, which will in turn reduce the risk of osteoarthritis. A team that adheres to a well-designed preventive training program can reduce the number of lower extremity injuries by > 40%. For more information, athletic trainers should refer to the recent NATA position statement on prevention of anterior cruciate ligament injury and infographics produced by the NATA and Osteoarthritis Action Alliance.
Athletic trainers should also educate patients with joint injuries about 1) their increased risk of osteoarthritis, 2) other common risk factors for osteoarthritis (e.g., obesity), 3) long-term self-management strategies to minimize the burden of osteoarthritis (e.g., weight management, maintaining a physically active and healthy lifestyle), 4) strategies to regularly monitor changes in joint health, and 5) the importance of reporting joint symptoms to healthcare professionals.
Finally, with over 30 million Americans – nearly 1 in 10 adults – having osteoarthritis it is highly likely that some athletic trainers are working with people who have osteoarthritis and want to remain active (e.g., coaches, referees, tactical athletes). These athletic trainers are uniquely suited to help these patients manage their joint symptoms and remain physically active. Hence, athletic trainers should be aware of existing treatment guidelines for managing osteoarthritis.
NATA acknowledges that sports activity is a safe and fun way to participate in physical activity and strives to provide its members with resources to assist patients with or at risk for osteoarthritis. Hence, the NATA is a member organization of the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance (OAAA) because it provides the NATA an opportunity to collaborate with other groups and professionals who are committed to osteoarthritis prevention. The OAAA provides an excellent opportunity for its member organizations to synergize efforts and create a broader platform to encourage osteoarthritis prevention among health care providers, community leaders and the public. Within the OAAA several athletic trainers contributed to the injury prevention resources that are publicly available.
In response to this growing public health burden of osteoarthritis, the OAAA is launching a new comprehensive campaign – StandUp2OA -- focused on osteoarthritis awareness and prevention. The StandUp2OA campaign has developed a variety of readily available and free tools, resources and infographics. Their resources are specific to osteoarthritis and help to empower patients, health care providers, policymakers and communities.
It’s time that we as athletic trainers StandUp2OA. We should stand up and encourage our schools and communities to adopt injury prevention programs. We should stand up and educate our patients about how they can reduce their risk for osteoarthritis. We should stand up and be advocates for our patient’s long-term health and wellness. Let’s start today to StandUp2OA.
How to Get Involved in the StandUp2OA Campaign
The campaign page (http://www.standup2oa.org/) is a great place to start. Here you will find information about how to raise awareness and take action whether you are an adult with OA, business leader, public official, community organization or a healthcare provider.
- Participate on Social Media. We encourage you to use the #StandUp2OA hashtag in your social media posts to promote evidence based public health interventions that can help prevent and manage #osteoarthritis. Let us know how you #StandUp2OA!
- Send a Letter to the Editor of Your Local Newspaper. This is a great way to inform community members about osteoarthritis symptoms and treatment options.
- Take Action. Contact your Congressperson or Senator.
- Tell Your Friends. Take this opportunity to share information about osteoarthritis symptoms, treatment options, what it’s like to live OA and other awareness information with your online and offline communities. Looking and an online community? Join the Osteoarthritis Action community on HealthUnlocked.
1. Ackerman IN, Bucknill A, Page RS, Broughton NS, Roberts C, Cavka B, Schoch P, Brand CA. The substantial personal burden experienced by younger people with hip or knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2015; 23(8):1276-1284.