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Physical Therapy for Arthritis

Arthritis is a term that may be used to describe over 100 different joint diseases. The disease is more common in women than in men but affects people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. People who experience one of the many diseases under the umbrella term of arthritis will often experience symptoms of joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. Physical therapists have especially important roles in the treatment of this disease.

Types of Arthritis

While rheumatoid arthritis is possibly the most well-known form of the disease, there are other types of arthritis with their own classifications. These may be more prone to affect specific ages or parts of the body, or have their own unique challenges and characteristics.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) h3- RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune response attacks healthy cells mostly in the joints. This immune response can degrade the joint, causing inflammation. RA often attacks the same joint on both sides of the body.
  • Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease of the joints in which all parts of the joint, including the fat, ligaments, cartilage, bones, and soft tissues (synovium) degrade, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling of the affected joint.
  • Gout – gout is a form of arthritis that happens as a result of the collection of uric acid crystals that accumulate in joints. Also known as metabolic arthritis, gout’s characteristic uric acid crystals are the result of the breakdown of purines, which are found in foods like red meats, alcohol, and certain types of seafood. Gout is characterized by intense flare-ups of arthritic pain that last for no more than two weeks. Gout pain can occur in one or many joints and is often experienced in the big toe joint.
  • Fibromyalgia- this disorder causes sustained, chronic bouts of pain throughout the body. The exact causes are unknown, but sufferers of the condition are more susceptible to pain.
  • Lupus – lupus is an autoimmune disease. The disease can cause many symptoms, one of which is joint pain.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis – this is an autoinflammatory disease that causes the body to attack healthy cells, such as the synovium, which is the tissues surrounding joints. Sufferers experience pain, redness, and swelling in their joints. The cause of this arthritis is unknown and affects children under the age of 16.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis – a chronic, inflammatory disease that may be debilitating without treatment. The disease can affect children and impacts the point at which tendons and ligaments attach to bone.

Does Physical Therapy Treat Arthritis?

Regardless of the type of arthritis the individual is suffering from, physical therapy is regarded as a frontline treatment to help manage pain and increase the quality of life. Those who suffer from any form of arthritis should see their healthcare providers for proper diagnosis and pain and disease management. A physical therapist can not only help individuals manage their arthritis pain, but they may also see the signs and symptoms of arthritis in an individual and help them go through the steps to see medical providers for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Physical Therapy Treatments for Arthritis

There are many different physical therapy strategies that a physical therapist may rely upon to help treat patients suffering from arthritis. Some of these strategies may include the following:

Physical Therapist Evaluation of Arthritis

A physical therapist may be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of arthritis during a session. If you suspect you have arthritis, it is important to see your primary care physician for an official diagnosis. If your primary care provider suspects an autoimmune disorder like RA, they may refer you to a rheumatologist or other specialist. After your official diagnosis, your primary care physician or specialist may send you to a physical therapist, who can further evaluate your condition and provide you with strategies for managing your disease during everyday life. Even with other types of treatment, such as joint replacement surgery, joint rebalancing, or other interventions, physical therapy will be prescribed post-operatively if it is not first used as a primary treatment.

Management of Arthritis

It is important to understand that arthritis has no cure; therefore, management of the condition is the most important thing a patient can do. Medications for arthritis usually only treat the symptoms. For some types of arthritis, such as RA, the medications will help slow down the progression of the disease. For pain management in addition to pharmaceuticals, physical therapists can give patients exercises to bolster their joints against further pain and increase their quality of life.

Preventing Arthritis

Arthritis is not always preventable. Some types, such as RA, are the result of an autoimmune response and are not fully understood. In order to give yourself the best chance of arthritis prevention, you should focus on the things you can control, such as lifestyle changes. Be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. These measures may help prevent or delay the onset of some types of arthritis.

PT Exercises Arthritis

Exercise is known to improve pain and quality of life from arthritis. Even the CDC recommends activity as a way to help combat the disease. There are a variety of exercises you can participate in with arthritis, even on your own. While some pain and stiffness can be normal with any physical activity, you’ll want to listen to your body if the pain is intolerable or seems extreme.

One benefit of having a physical therapist is working together to find out what exercises work best for you. For those with limited mobility or even more severe forms of arthritis, a PT is especially helpful in guiding you through exercises, movement, and educating you about what is most appropriate for your own specific injury or illness.

When to see a Physical Therapist for Arthritis

No one needs to suffer with their arthritis. If you suspect your are suffering from some for of arthritis, or your provider has referred you to physical therapy,  your next steps will be setting up an appointment with a licensed physical therapist. At Evolution Physical Therapy, we have locations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Long Island, with specialist PT providers that offer a range of physical therapy services and help to provide you with the treatment, education, and additional support you need on your road to recovery. Reach out to us today, by calling us to set up an appointment at a location near you, or filling out our Request an Appointment form.