Skip to main content

Motion is the Lotion - How can Physical Therapy help Arthritis?

Background

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It affects 1 in 5 adults and 300,000 children. Almost 1/3 of working-aged people with arthritis report that it limits their ability to work. It costs $156 billion each year in medical expenses as well as lost wages. Nearly 1 million hospitalizations occur each year from arthritis. This is a serious condition and a serious problem. Luckily, physical therapy is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis!

The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Managing Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis comes in 2 forms: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs because of wear and tear on the joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease. It occurs because of the immune system attacking the joint lining.

Physical therapy can reduce joint pain, improve mobility, and help to prevent further damage to the joints. Using individualized exercises, physical therapists help people manage their condition and reduce discomfort. Physical therapists often combine advice on lifestyle modifications with exercise to maximize improvement. Let's look at the types of exercise that can help manage arthritis symptoms next.

Range of Motion Exercises

These gently move affected joints through their entire range of motion. This can help reduce stiffness and improve mobility. Examples would include things like gentle stretching, tai chi, or gentle yoga.

You can think of your cartilage as a sponge. If it sits without ever being washed out, it builds up bacteria as well as waste products. But if you rinse it out and move it, it will wash out the waste products and allow clean water back into the sponge. By moving the joint it helps to wash out the waste products in the joint and make it feel better.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise creates repeated motion, moving the synovial fluid in the joints. It also increases blood flow and releases endorphins which reduce pain. Aerobic exercise also helps to control weight. Weight loss is proven to reduce the stress on your joints, which can reduce pain. Aerobic exercise for people with arthritis should be low impact. This would include things like walking, cycling, or swimming.

Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of managing arthritis. It decreases pain, improves strength, and function. Stronger muscles around the affected joints provide better support and protection.

Aquatic Exercise

Exercising in a therapeutic pool can be a great way for people with arthritis to get started. The buoyancy of the water helps to relieve some of the body's pressure on the joints. The water pressure also provides compression on the joints. This offers some stability and pain relief. The movement of your body through the water creates resistance for your muscles. This allows them to get stronger in a protective environment.

Education

Besides designing a custom exercise program, a physical therapist will educate people with arthritis on lifestyle modifications to help manage their symptoms. Some suggestions might include weight loss, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress. A PT can also modify daily activities to help protect joints affected by arthritis. This can slow down or prevent progression of symptoms. Physical therapy is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis. Current clinical guidelines for treating arthritis include strong recommendations for exercise and other physical therapy treatments. If you're one of the 53 million Americans with arthritis, give your PT a call. They're a great provider to help you reduce pain, manage your symptoms, and move better.

 

References:
Research (peer-reviewed)
  1. Knee osteoarthritis: key treatments and implications for physical therapy - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1413355520302434
  2. Osteoarthritis Management: Updated Guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation - https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0115/p120.html
  3. Physical therapy for patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis: supervised, active treatment is current best practice - https://sport-physiotherapie-halle41.ch/wpcontent/uploads/2021/03/9-Physical-therapy-for-patients-with-knee-and-hiposteoarthritis-2019.pdf
Articles and Content
  1. May Is National Arthritis Awareness Month – News
  2. Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis | Arthritis Foundation How Can Physical Therapy Help to Avoid Surgery? - Tucson Orthopaedic Institute

     

Author
Alana Hamilton Alana Hamilton is a physical therapist at Advantage Physical Therapy in Falls Church, Virginia. She is a proud Hokie from Virginia Tech with a major in Biology and a minor in psychology and sociology. Following graduation, she immediately got her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Radford University. She is an avid fan of Pilates, running, and hiking. On the weekends, she can be found hanging out with her family and baby as well as doing Spartan races with her old physical therapy classmates and friends. She is a big believer that during rehabilitation, "Motion is the Lotion" and that staying active is key to remaining healthy.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Physical Therapy is for Everyone!

Physical therapists are experts in human movement who are trained to evaluate and treat all kinds of musculoskeletal issues. We are here to help you throughout life, from birth though the golden years.

The Forgotten Muscles

Physical therapists are well known for working with muscles like the hamstrings or low back. But most people don't release they also work on muscles inside the pelvis. Often forgot but they can cause incontinence or pain.

Optimizing Movement: What is the FMS?

Have you been trying to improve your sport? At Advantage Physical Therapy, we can perform a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) on you to see how several different movements work together to identify asymmetries that may hinder training.

Physical Therapy and Stroke Rehab: A Lock and Key

If you or a loved one has suffered a stroke, don’t lose hope. Physical therapy can help you regain functional mobility and independence, improve your quality of life and well-being, prevent or reduce complications and make the most of your recovery.

Are you Active? Let's stay active with Physical Therapy!

Physical therapy has many benefits for active people. Athletes, performers, weekend warriors, and those in physically demanding jobs can all benefit from a physical therapists advice. Here are 3 ways physical therapists help active people stay that way.