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How Can Physical Therapy Help Arthritis

A man treating arthritis with physical therapy

Treating Arthritis with Physical Therapy

More than 50 million adults in the United States have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. To put this into perspective – that’s 1 in every 4 adults in the country! With the aging population, this number is expected to grow to approximately 78 million adults by 2040. The main symptoms of arthritis include pain and joint stiffness that can range in severity from mild to severe, and they typically worsen as you age. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., and if you suffer from arthritis, you know just how detrimental this condition can be to your ability to function normally every day. If you’re looking for symptom relief, a consultation with a physical therapist at Excel PT can help to get your symptoms under control and improve your quality of life.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis involves chronic joint inflammation and can affect any area of the body; however, common areas of involvement include the spine, hands, shoulders, hips, and knees. There are over 100 different arthritis types, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the United States and is characterized by inflammation, deterioration, and loss of cartilage in the joints. Symptoms of osteoarthritis typically include pain, joint stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Osteoarthritis is progressive in nature, and there is no cure.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when an abnormal immune response targets the joint tissues of the body, resulting in inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that tends to involve periods of flare-ups and remission. Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms tend to be symmetrical (occurring on both sides of the body) and include joint pain, tenderness, warmth, redness and swelling, reduced range of motion, fever, and joint deformity. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help

The goals of physical therapy, for the treatment of arthritis, include decreasing joint pain, increasing joint range of motion, and improving joint function. Your physical therapist will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your condition in order to develop an individualized treatment plan, which will help to achieve these treatment goals. They will also help you understand your condition, which will help you to better manage your symptoms.

Your physical therapist will work to improve your muscle strength and joint mobility by using various techniques, which will help to provide pain relief. This will make tasks such as walking, standing and sitting, easier.

There are various options that your physical therapist can use to treat arthritis, some of which you can also use at home. These treatment options will help to improve the health and function of your joints, while at the same time increase your muscle strength and endurance.

Some treatment options that are available in our clinic that you can continue at home to manage your symptoms include:         

Ice packs

  • Helps to soothe inflamed, hot joints.

Heat packs

  • Helps to relax stiff and tired muscles

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

  • Helps to interfere with the transmission of nerve signals between the affected area and your brain, which alters your perception of pain

Splinting the swollen or inflamed joint during a flare-up

  • Helps to protect the inflamed joint and reduce pain

Other treatments that may be used in the clinic include:

Manual therapy (mobilization, manipulation, etc.)

  • Helps to restore normal joint range of motion

Stretching

  • Helps to loosen tightened muscles 

Soft tissue massage

  • Helps to relax and loosen tightened muscles

Acupuncture

  • Stimulates the brain to produce endorphins 

Electrotherapy (ultrasound, laser therapy, etc.)

  • Promotes healing, thereby helping to reduce pain 

Postural and movement pattern re-training

  • Helps to eliminate excess stress on the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body

Exercise and Arthritis

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to control your arthritis symptoms. Many people avoid exercise because they are afraid that it will increase their pain or lead to further joint damage, but keep in mind that your joints were designed to move and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons will become weak if they’re not used. This can lead to joint instability, reduced mobility, and a loss of independence. Exercise can help to improve your overall fitness, help you maintain a healthy weight, and improve your mobility. However, it’s important that you don’t over-do it, or you may aggravate your symptoms. That’s where your physical therapist can help – they can develop an individualized exercise plan and find the right balance between exercise and rest and help you get moving.  

If your arthritis symptoms limit your movement to the point where you need assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, your physical therapist can help to ensure that these devices are fitted correctly and that you are using them properly. They can also make suggestions on simple changes that you can make to your environment (home, workstation, etc.) to make your daily tasks a little easier.

Complications of Arthritis

Difficulties with mobility can put you at a higher risk of trips and falls, leaving you susceptible to injury. Additionally, work can become difficult due to pain and mobility issues, leading to irritability, frustration, and even depression. Working with your physical therapist to improve your mobility and making modifications to your home or workstation can help to reduce your risk of these complications and help you carry out your normal activities without problems.

Conclusion

If you suffer from arthritis and your symptoms are limiting your activities, you should consider consulting one of the physical therapists at Excel Physical Therapy in Lodi, CA. Our experienced physical therapists can assess your condition and get you moving safely and effectively, which will allow you to resume your normal activities as quickly as possible and improve your quality of life.

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