Like a complex machine with moving parts, as we age, our bodies start to show signs of wear and tear. As Australia's ageing population grows, so does the number of people needing treatment for painful, worn-out joints.
La Trobe University has a team working on non-pharmaceutical ways to keep one of our most crucial moving parts - the hip joint - working as long as possible.
We are focused on improving treatments for osteoarthritis, a slow degenerative disease that affects weight-bearing joints, particularly hips and knees.
About about a quarter of women, and 16 per cent of men aged over 55 suffer from this debilitating condition, causing pain while performing everyday activities such as climbing stairs and getting in or out of a car.
In 2013, almost 26,000 hip replacement operations were performed in this country. That number is expected to grow to almost 80,000 by 2030.
Exercise is already regarded as the best option for managing the disease, improving physical function and quality of life.
Current treatment programs advise patients to work whole muscle groups, without paying special attention to the problem area or specific muscles. It's true, this can improve strength for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, but not the hip.
People with hip osteoarthritis have smaller and weaker muscles.
Our research shows that segments of affected patients' gluteal muscles have degenerated, changing the way they use these muscles when they walk.
These changes worsen over the course of the disease, and may lead to further pain and weakness.
We believe that we can help people suffering from hip osteoarthritis achieve better results by helping them target their exercise on the specific gluteal muscles that stabilise the hip.
By rehabilitating a section of the gluteus minimus muscle, we believe we have found a way to slow down the disease in people with early-stage hip osteoarthritis.
With funding from Arthritis Australia and Arthritis New Zealand, La Trobe University is inviting people to help with our research through a free 12-week program involving exercises and weekly physiotherapy sessions. To sign up, visit bit.ly/2KERcPg or phone our team in Bendigo on (03) 5444 7942 or Melbourne on (03) 9479 5872.
It is vital that as our population ages we explore new ways to help the thousands of Australians suffering with this common condition.
Dr Rod Green is an Associate Professor in Human Anatomy at La Trobe University
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