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START BUILDING YOUR HEALTHCARE TEAM
A team-based approach is essential to managing your joint pain or osteoarthritis (OA).
Click on the links below to search for qualified health care providers in your suburb or area.
General practitioners (GPs)
Your local Arthritis organisation
Multidisciplinary pain clinics
In Australia, doctors are central to the management of your joint pain or osteoarthritis (OA).
It may take some effort to find a GP who can support you well but it is recommended that you take the time to do this. GPs may also know of trusted and experienced allied health practitioners in your area and can help build your healthcare team.
If you have diagnosed OA, your GP should prepare a GP Management Plan (Medicare item 721) and Team Care Arrangement (Medicare item 723) which will refer you and provide up to 5 rebated visits to allied health professionals such as physios, dietitians or occupational therapists. You may also be able to access a mental health care plan which provides up to 10 Medicare rebated visits to a psychologist for additional help with coping, low mood, or pain management from psychologists trained in these areas. Find a GP here.
There is strong evidence that nutrition and diet are key to managing your joint pain. What and how you eat is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Also important is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory and high-fibre foods to support your immune system and healthy gut bacteria.
Dietitians are health care professionals who are trained to support you in these areas. They will provide you with tailored advice and information about your optimal diet, nutrition, and weight loss. Dieticians can help you make healthy food choices, separate fact from fiction, and create healthy eating plans. Find a dietician here.
No matter how great or small your pain is, joint exercise and muscle strengthening can be more effective than any medication that is currently available. For this reason, a physiotherapist’s involvement in your joint pain management is very important.
A good physio will show you tailored exercises to do at home to strengthen and stretch the muscles in your joints and improve your function. They will also show you pain relief techniques to use at home, including the use of heat packs, taping and walking sticks, to keep your joints as flexible and pain-free as possible. As a rule, the evidence supports active treatments where you repeatedly engage in strengthening and stretching exercises. Passive treatments such as ultrasound and interferential have been shown to be ineffective. Find a physiotherapist here.
This allied health professional can give you individual advice about exercise, including how to get started safely and the best type of exercise for your health and ability. They can also complement the exercise program devised by your physio. If you need to lose weight, an exercise physiologist can also design an exercise program to work alongside a healthy diet.
Find an exercise physiologist here.
An occupational therapist (OT) is dedicated to helping you improve your mobility, function and ability to do the things that are important to you. They can provide advice on how to do things in a way that reduces joint strain and pain, including pacing your activities. They may also suggest changes to your house, like adding handrails, or aids, such as splints, that can make life easier and protect your joints. To do this, they may come to your home or work. Find an occupational therapist here.
Some psychologists are trained to help people in pain with coping, low mood, or pain management. Before seeing a psychologist, it is best to ask them about their experience in this area or to ask your GP for a referral to someone they’ve worked with before. A GP can also prepare a mental health care plan which provides rebated visits to a psychologist for additional help. Find a psychologist here.
Many people have found the MindSpot pain management program a good option instead of, or in addition to seeing a psychologist. This free online service - delivered by psychologists who are experienced in pain management - is available at www.mindspot.org.au/about-pain
State/Territory Arthritis Offices offer a range of information and support services to help you to better understand and manage your condition. These services include self-management courses, community programs, information and education seminars, support groups, exercise classes, camps for children with arthritis and more.
To find out more, call the Arthritis toll free infoline on 1800 011 041 or contact your local arthritis office directly. Find your local state/territory arthritis organisation.
These health professionals are specialists in diagnosing and managing arthritis and other musculoskeletal (bone, joint and muscle) and related inflammatory conditions. They have extensive training and experience and can be beneficial if you have severe symptoms or seek an expert or second opinion. You will need a referral from your GP to see one and waiting times can be long due to the shortage of trained specialists in Australia. Find a rheumatologist here.
A pharmacist can give you information about your medicines, side effects and interactions, as well as help you to manage your medicines (eg. checking dosage, managing repeats). If you are taking medication for other health conditions and have irregular contact with a GP, a pharmacist can be very important in monitoring your medication and providing tailored advice. Find a pharmacy here.
A podiatrist can help take care of your feet. They may find ways to reduce the pain in your toes, knees or hips, perhaps by providing shoe inserts or advice on footwear. Find a podiatrist here.
Multidisciplinary pain management uses a mix of medical, physical and psychological therapies and they can be one of the most effective ways to lessen pain intensity, improve mood and function, and reduce disability. Multidisciplinary clinics use a bio-psycho-social approach to pain management because this seeks to address all the factors that create and influence our experience of pain. It’s important to know that not all pain clinics use this approach. Some clinics may rely completely on medication or surgical procedures. Such clinics should be avoided if you are seeking a more comprehensive and truly multidisciplinary approach. Learn more here.
These kinds of surgeons are highly trained to perform operations on bone and joints. As a general rule, and because of its risks, surgery should be a last resort after you have tried all other non-surgical treatments with genuine commitment. Such non-surgical treatments may include weight loss if needed, along with dietary changes, exercises prescribed by a physio, and pain management courses. Arthroscopy should be avoided as a rule unless there is evidence of joint movement being hindered through some sort of physical obstruction.
After you have fully explored non-surgical options, your GP may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss your surgical options. These discussions should cover the risks and benefits of surgery. For example, joint replacements do have a limited life span, so a revision (with higher risks) may be needed at a future date. Also up to 30% of people find the surgery unsatisfactory, mainly due to ongoing pain. It’s therefore important to have confidence in the surgeon you choose and they should take the time to answer your questions and inspire trust. Do not hesitate to seek a second or third opinion if you feel this is right for you. Your GP may be able to recommend and refer you to a trusted surgeon. Alternatively, you can search for an orthopaedic surgeon here.
You may find that coming with a friend or family member will help you notate or remember this information.