Online health sessions focused on improving people’s nutritional intake and physical activity levels have been found to reduce joint discomfort and increase weight loss.

People who are signed up to a telehealth lifestyle programme can ease knee pain by up to 80 per cent and on average lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight, with the study also reporting that one participant lost 39 kilograms after following the video-based plan.

Academics from the University of Melbourne examined more than 400 people with knee osteoarthritis who were then split into several groups so they could assess the impact of different care programmes, with one virtual intervention focused on diet and exercise and the other without.

Some participants were also put into an information only group, where they were signposted to online educational resources instead of being put on to a telehealth programme.

Throughout the experiment, those on both telehealth plans could virtually access support from healthcare professionals, such a dietitians and physiotherapists. Food substitutes were also provided to the participants in the diet and exercise group so they could adopt a ketogenic lifestyle.

According to the findings, individuals on both telehealth programmes improved their health more than the participants only receiving online information.

In addition, the people following either telehealth programme were less likely to get a knee replacement when compared to the participants in the information only group.

The results also revealed that those on the exercise-based plan experienced the least amount of pain, reduced their medication intake and lost a substantial amount of weight.

Chief author Professor Kim Bennell said: “Participants lost on average 10.2 kilograms over a six-month period with four out of five participants achieving significant improvement in pain.

“We are proud to have developed a program that has a strong regional and rural representation and is based on a trial which made a real difference in the lives of participants.”

She added: “Particularly during these times of pandemic-related travel restrictions, it is crucial Australians are able to access home-based treatments to manage their osteoarthritis symptoms, no matter where they live or what COVID restrictions are in place.”

Matthew Boyd, from Toowoomba in Queensland, took part in the trial after experiencing excruciating knee pain, resulting in his physical health to deteriorate.

He said: “Since taking part in Better Knee, Better Me, I feel amazing. I have lost 16kg which has decreased the weight load on my knees, and my pain.

“I no longer take any pain relief for my knee pain, which has meant I have been able to return to all the physical activities I wasn’t able to do over the past five years.

He added: “The pain in my knees no longer dictates my daily routine and I am back moving in a way I haven’t done in years.”

Previous research has identified that more than two million people living in Australia are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, with it set to double by 2032 because of an older population and a surge in obesity cases across the country.

The University of Melbourne teamed up with Medibank and Austin Health to conduct this study.

Catherine Keating, Head of Member Health Service and Design at Medibank, announced that the organisation is keen to “provide its customers with healthcare that gives them more choice and control in how they receive their care.”

She said: “It’s part of our focus on taking the lead on driving preventative health because we know our customers want personalised support to improve their health and wellbeing.”

The study has been published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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