Self-treatment system has got bad knees taped
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The taping, which can be taught by a physiotherapist in one or two visits, is combined with muscle-strengthening exercises.
The treatment involves taping the patella, or knee cap, which must be held in the correct position as it moves over the knee joint, and taping below the knee cap to take pressure off the fatty tissue. It involves two types of tape: a stretchable under-tape to prevent irritation of the skin, and a rigid sports tape. Both varieties are available from most chemists.
Osteoarthritis of the knees is one of the most common and debilitating diseases of ageing; more than 1 million Australians suffer from it. This number is increasing by about 8 per cent a year.
The World Health Organisation reports that 40 per cent of people over the age of 70 suffer osteoarthritis of the knees and that globally, osteoarthritis ranks fourth in women and eighth for men in terms of disease impact.
Osteoarthritis usually develops from 45 years of age onwards, and all forms of arthritis are increasing, says the Arthritis Foundation of NSW.
The finding on taping follows a study by physiotherapists from the University of Melbourne and claims to provide the first evidence of the effects of knee-taping in the treatment and management of osteoarthritis.
The randomised, blind-control trial involved 87 patients divided into three groups. One group received no taping, a second received placebo taping and the third received therapeutic taping.
The taping covered three weeks, with the the tape being replaced at the ends of the first and second weeks. The patients were then assessed three weeks after the tape was removed. The therapeutic tape group reported a decrease in pain of 38 to 40 per cent.
Dr Kim Bennell, associate professor and director of the Centre for Health Exercise and Sports Medicine at the University of Melbourne, says taping had previously been associated with younger people suffering patellofemoral (front of the knee) pain, generally caused by sporting activity.
She stressed that taping was one part of self-management and treatment of osteoarthritis, and was best combined with exercises to strengthen the quadriceps muscles and improve balance.
The exercises include step-ups, partial squats and similar movements that engage specific muscles of the thigh. They can be performed daily or several times a week, depending on the needs of the patient.
In 1986, Sydney physiotherapist Jenny McConnell pioneered a taping treatment for the management of patellofemoral pain that now bears her name.
McConnell, who was a member of the research team, says that when treating patients for patellofemoral injuries, she found that not only did the taping reduce that pain, it also reduced osteoarthritic pain in some people.
In osteoarthritis the pain comes from the soft tissue below the knee cap, rather than the bone, or cartilage, which has no nerves, says McConnell, although there is an association between lack of joint space - a symptom of osteoarthritis - and pain.
She says taping unloads pressure from the tissue, enabling inflammation to settle down.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that the economic cost of musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis is $3 billion a year.
Editor's note: People shouldn't attempt strapping their knees until assessed by a physiotherapist. This treatment is not appropriate for all arthritis sufferers, and in some cases, can cause more pain.