Physical Therapy for Arthritis

updated May 2023

Arthritis has been the most common cause of pain in the U.S. for 15 years. Over 294,000 children have some type of arthritis symptoms. Yet, our country’s cure has been a reliance on drugs, and drugs create even more problems.

You can beat arthritis back and improve mobility without relying on drugs. That solution comes from physical therapy.

Most patients overlook the early symptoms of arthritis, assuming that they’re the result of “overdoing it.” Actually, they need to get moving, but move in the right way. With physical therapy, people remain mobile longer and find relief for associated symptoms like weakness and fatigue.

Anatomy of Arthritis

Arthritis occurs when the joints become inflamed. Inflammation may be caused by a worn bursa that cushions bones. It can also occur when the immune system attacks the membrane that surrounds the joint. A family history of arthritis increases the risk of developing the condition, along with age, obesity and being female. People who have experienced a previous joint injury are also at risk.

The symptoms of arthritis include pain, stiffness and swelling, along with decreased range of motion. The skin often becomes reddened at the affected joint. Patients may also experience symptoms throughout the day or they may be worse in the morning upon rising. It’s essential that patients obtain a diagnosis, as many symptoms can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of arthritis may flare and subside in the early stages. An x-ray may not show damage until the disease progresses. Inflammation can place pressure on the nerves, resulting in a sensation of burning, tingling or numbness. Posture may be affected, along with the ability to straighten fingers or limbs. Patients may experience difficulty eating and sleeping, pleurisy and general feeling of malaise.

Physical Therapy Fosters Independence

Movement is one of the best treatments for arthritis. Physical therapy offers treatments such as yoga and clinical Pilates, along with gentle yet effective ways to stay active and stave off disability. Exercise aids in pain relief and maintaining flexibility. It’s tailored to the patient’s level of ability. Also, physical therapy treatment plans can be designed for weight loss that relieves pressure on joints.

Other treatment methods include acupuncture, therapeutic massage, ultrasound and electrical stimulation techniques that ease pain and foster mobility. Massage elevates mood and is effective for rehabilitation should patients undergo joint replacement surgery or joint fusion. Therapists can assist with heat and cold therapies, along with instruction and help with assistive devices to facilitate mobility.

Manual manipulation and aquatic therapy are effective for reducing stress on joints and improving flexibility. Water reduces body weight by 10 percent, making movement and exercise significantly easier. Therapists help patients with environmental accommodations to facilitate performance of everyday tasks, along with bicycles and other equipment that enables patients to remain active.

All of these therapies are designed to relieve pain, improve flexibility and maintain motion, with treatment and management plans tailored to the individual. Arthritis is  painful, debilitating and the leading cause of disability. However, patients can treat, alleviate and delay effects with physical therapy.

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