Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Typical symptoms include pain, swelling, and limited mobility in one or several joints.
There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, and there is no cure. However, there are plenty of options for treatment and management of its symptoms, and physical therapy is one of the most popular methods of managing arthritis pain.
Can Physical Therapy Help with My Arthritis?
Arthritis patients are often afraid to move around and be active, because they feel like it will increase their pain. However, controlled activity can actually help alleviate arthritis pain; lack of activity increases stiffness in joints, and the pain worsens.
Therefore, physical therapy (PT), or orthopedic rehabilitation, can help to restore a patient’s mobility so they can perform normal, daily life functions with minimal difficulty. Arthritis sufferers can benefit greatly from physical therapy, and PT is usually a part of a comprehensive care plan.
Physical Therapy Goals for Arthritis Patients
Maintaining a good range of motion with your arms, legs, and torso is vital to performing the daily activities you enjoy. Increasing the range of motion of an arthritic joint is a main focus of physical therapy for arthritis, along with building and maintaining strong muscles.
Physical therapists provide customized exercise programs designed to preserve the strength, mobility, and use of your joints, whether your arthritis is widespread throughout your body or confined to one area of the body.
Physical therapy should begin as early as possible in order to reduce inflammation, pain, joint stiffness, and even deformity. In other words, physical therapy can help prevent or lessen the symptoms of arthritis.
After swelling and other inflammation levels subside, treatment will include customized exercises to increase range of motion and to improve and maintain fitness levels. The frequency, intensity, and duration of your physical therapy program will be tailored to your own abilities.
Types of Physical Therapy for Treating Arthritis
A physical therapy program for arthritis sufferers teaches joint protection exercises and techniques for reducing stress on the affected joints. Some of these include the following:
Hot and cold treatment such as ice packs or heating pads can help relieve local pain. Heat also relaxes muscle spasms. Also, taking a warm bath or shower before exercise can help warm up your joints and muscles so you can exercise more easily.
Weight-loss exercises can help prevent extra stress on the weight-bearing joints in your back, hips, knees, and feet.
Flexibility exercises are designed to preserve the mobility, strength, and use of your joints.
Conserving energy may not sound like physical therapy, but it’s important to allow for appropriate rest periods during the workday, on the weekends, and even in the evenings to give your joints a break. Taking breaks will help your joints feel less stress.
Body positioning and posture techniques can help protect the integrity of the joints of the back, legs, and feet while performing daily activities to help relieve pain and improve function. For example, your physical therapist may recommend that you sit down for an activity instead of standing. Changing positions often can help avoid increased stiffness and pain.
Orthotic aids such as braces for your knees, ankles, or wrists, or using canes, crutches, shoe inserts, splints, or walkers can help relieve stress on arthritic joints.
Ergonomic modifications of work and home environments, such as ergonomic office chairs, padded mats, lightweight cookware, and height adjustments to cabinets and storage areas can all help relieve pain and improve function in your joints.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for Arthritis Patients
If you have arthritis, participating in a physical therapy program can be very beneficial in helping to alleviate your pain. You’ll gain knowledge about your specific form of arthritis and how to deal with it. You’ll also learn specific, simple exercises that are geared to your individual needs.
The exercises you learn can help reduce joint pain and stiffness while improving balance, coordination, endurance, joint flexibility, and muscle strength. If necessary, your physical therapist can recommend certain orthotic devices and assistive equipment that will help increase your mobility.