How Can Physical Therapy Help Arthritis Patients?
What is Arthritis?
There are many different types of arthritis, but most of them involve the inflammation of one or many joints in the body leading to pain and swelling. Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types of arthritis and symptoms can be managed by an orthopedic surgeon. Osteoarthritis is the slow breakdown of cartilage while Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the joints.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis?
Arthritis has different stages and symptoms depending on what stage you are currently in, and what type of arthritis you have. For most, it begins with stiffness in the joints. This can make it difficult to extend the affected ligament-like an arm, leg, finger, etc. Since arthritis causes inflammation in the body, patients may see swelling and or redness. Pain is also a contributing factor for patients to seek treatment for the condition.
How Do I Know I Have Arthritis?
A diagnosis of arthritis must be given by a doctor. An orthopedic surgeon can help diagnose by performing physical examinations followed by imaging. If the arthritis is far enough along, an x-ray may be able to pick up on it, however, an MRI may be necessary for harder to detect arthritis.
Should I See a Doctor for Arthritis?
Since a diagnosis must be given by a doctor, you will need to see an orthopedic doctor to be sure of your condition. Seeing an orthopedic doctor first will also help get you on track to recovery as they are well versed with the condition and will know the proper first steps.
Treatments of Arthritis
Depending on the type of arthritis and how far along, your treatments may vary. Below is a list of least to most invasive options depending on severity:
- Over the counter medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or Advil, and the RICE method (rest, ice, compress, elevate)
- Physical therapy
- Injections (gel shot, cortisol)
- Surgery (arthroscopic, joint replacement)
Your doctor will set up a treatment plan that could be a combination of the above treatment options.
Physical Therapy for Arthritis
Physical therapy is one of the most important treatments when it comes to managing pain. No matter what stage you are at in your condition or what other treatments you may be receiving, your doctor will likely pair it with physical therapy. If physical therapy is so important, how does it help?
Range of motion
One of the most common symptoms of arthritis is stiffness in the joint, making range of motion limited. Your physical therapist will give you exercises and stretches that will help increase your range of motion. Once you have implemented these into your routine, your joints will be less painful and tasks may become easier to complete.
Physical Therapy Targeted Treatments
Physical therapists do more than just workout and stretch with you! Many are certified in treatments like dry needling and shockwave therapy. These additional treatments help target pain and inflammation, making the recovery from surgery or injuries faster.
Muscle Strengthening and Biomechanics
One of the main things you will work on in physical therapy is gaining more strength around the affected joints. The more muscles you have (in the right places) the more support that joint will receive, putting less pressure on the joint and less pain for you.
Lifestyle Changes with Physical Therapy
A great physical therapist will go beyond what you do in your PT session and talk about what your daily life looks like. Depending on your activity level and your goals, your physical therapist should make a customized plan that you can take with you for the rest of your life! Once you have completed your time with your physical therapist, you should have learned something about your condition and understand how to manage that pain on your own.