Keeping Australians out of hospital

Dr Christian Barton, from the College of Science, Health and Engineering, is improving health outcomes for people living with knee osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease, affecting the hands, hips and knees. It is the most common form of arthritis, often leading to knee and hip replacement surgery.

“Australia currently spends more than $1.2 billion a year on knee replacements,” says Dr Christian Barton, a Senior Research Fellow at the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre, and an expert on knee injuries. “That figure is estimated to exceed $3 billion per year by 2020.”

Although exercise becomes increasingly difficult for people with OA, it is regarded as the best option for managing the disease, improving physical function and quality of life.

“We already know that physiotherapist-led non-surgical care can delay joint replacement by two years for two thirds of people,” he said. “But most people living with knee osteoarthritis do not receive the education needed to self-manage their condition.”

Dr Barton is working on a range of projects to improve health outcomes for people living with knee osteoarthritis. He is the co-leading Australian researcher on ‘The Good Living with osteoarthritis from Denmark’ (GLA:D) project, an innovative education and exercise program for people with hip or knee osteoarthritis symptoms.

“The program features exercises that can be applied to everyday activities,” Barton says. “By strengthening and improving daily movement patterns, participants train their bodies to move more freely, prevent symptom progression and reduce pain.”

A recent Medical Research Future Fund grant will allow Barton to combine the GLA:D program with other non-surgical treatments including diet advice and support, behaviour change coaching and psychology as a “package of care that can be delivered in the community.”

“Our trial is also examining the cost, impact and barriers to providing non-surgical care for people on knee-replacement waiting lists or who have been referred to see a surgeon.”

“People who have access to programs like GLA:D often choose to manage the condition with exercise, not surgery,” adds Barton. “Australia could save millions by improving physiotherapy access and adopting the right evidence-based programs that help to keep people out of hospital.”

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