Physical Therapy for Osteoarthritis

Millions of people worldwide suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis. OA is a degenerative disease of the joints, in which all structures of the joint–bone, fat, ligaments, cartilage, and the synovium–are affected. Joint structures degrade as the disease progresses, causing inflammation, which leads to pain and decreased range of motion in the afflicted joint.

OA usually develops over many years, often presenting in individuals over the age of 50; however, if an individual suffers a traumatic injury to a joint, they may develop OA rapidly, even in a few short years. While it is the most common form of arthritis, OA is not a disease that everyone will develop. Some people will never develop this form of arthritis. While OA cannot be cured, there are a number of treatments available that may alleviate its symptoms, including physical therapy.

Areas Affected by Osteoarthritis

Individuals suffering from osteoarthritis may have the condition in one or more joints. While any joint in the body can have OA, the disease is most commonly found in the following areas:

  • Knee Osteoarthritis – osteoarthritis of the knee is the degradation of the cartilage and other structures of the knee joint, resulting in the bones rubbing together. This stress on the bones causes inflammation, stiffness, swelling, and pain. As a weight-bearing joint, many individuals will experience OA of the knee in their lifetime. Additionally, individuals who have suffered an injury or repeated stress to the knee joint may suffer from OA.
  • Lower Back Osteoarthritis – osteoarthritis of the lower back affects the discs of the lower spine. Sometimes, osteoarthritis of the spine causes bone spurs to form, which can impinge nerves in the back, causing pain and weakness of the extremities. Those with genetic abnormalities of the spine or who have suffered a prior injury to the spine may suffer OA in the area. 
  • Osteoarthritis of the Hip- OA of the hip is common because it is a weight-bearing joint. As the joint loses its cartilage during the disease, the space between bones decreases, causing the bones to rub against each other. This rubbing can, in turn, cause the body to produce bone spurs, which may cause pain and decreased range of motion in the joint.
  • Osteoarthritis of the Hand – the hand has 29 bones, which means there are many joints in the hand that OA can affect. However, OA of the hand most commonly impacts the base of the thumb, the distal interphalangeal joint, and the proximal interphalangeal joint. Women are much more likely than men to have OA of the hand. OA in the hand causes pain, decreased range of motion, joint deformity, and weakness in the hand.

Does Physical Therapy Treat Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease without a cure. Medicine for the disease is focused on relieving pain and swelling caused by OA, rather than treating the actual disease. Medical research has yet to unearth the exact pathogenesis of OA, meaning that pharmaceutical interventions for OA are not a silver-bullet cure for the disease. Physical therapy, however, has been shown to help patients suffering from OA attain a better quality of life.

Physical Therapy Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Physical therapy treatments for OA vary depending on which joint or joints are suffering from OA. Physical therapists can help patients suffering from OA with strategies, techniques, and exercises. These may include:

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis

If you suspect you are suffering from Osteoarthritis, it is important to make an appointment with your primary care provider for an evaluation. They can give you a diagnosis and refer you to a physical therapist to get you started with treatment to improve your quality of life. Your healthcare providers can also rule out the existence of rheumatoid arthritis, which requires a different treatment plan. Physical therapists may also evaluate your symptoms and may be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Preventing Osteoarthritis

Since we do not fully understand the underlying reason why patients develop OA, and others do not, it may not always be possible to prevent OA. However, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising frequently with proper form, maintaining a healthy weight, and being sure to address any joint injuries promptly with a doctor can potentially help increase your chances of preventing or delaying OA. If you have movement or posture issues, or strength imbalances, you may want to address these with a physical therapist in order to correct them and prevent unequal wear and tear on your joints.

Management of Osteoarthritis

OA is a disease without a cure and therefore must be managed with a number of techniques. Medications such as NSAIDs may be prescribed to help with pain, stiffness, and swelling. As a last resort, joint replacement surgery or joint fusion surgery may be used in extreme cases. However, in many cases of OA, regular physical therapy can drastically improve the individual’s quality of life. Physical therapy is a noninvasive and relatively simple way to improve outcomes for patients suffering from OA.

PT Exercises Osteoarthritis

For osteoarthritis, movement is crucial. For those who are able, even walking can help in the fight against OA. There are no shortages of exercises that you can do, both enjoyable and therapeutic that can be incorporated into your daily life that can be used as part of your overall treatment for OA. These include strengthening exercises, balance exercises, stretching, and a wide range of cardio or aerobic activities. Your first step will be working with your physical therapist to find the appropriate exercise for your level of pain, physical activity, and mobility.

When to see a Physical Therapist for Osteoarthritis

If you are suffering from osteoarthritis or suspect you may have it, you may seek out your regular care provider or schedule an appointment with a licensed physical therapist. More often than not, physical therapy is a common treatment to help OA and may be used alongside other treatments for increased effectiveness. When you work with one of our specialists at Evolution Physical Therapy, you’re working with licensed PTs and DPTS who regularly treat the condition of OA and offer both advanced and cutting-edge physical therapy treatments.With locations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Long Island, our specialist PT providers offer a range of physical therapy services and are here to help to provide you with the treatment, education, and additional support you need. 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.