By Professional Physical Therapy
May is National Arthritis Month, a time to raise awareness about the debilitating pain and limitations caused by arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 54 million adults in the United States have arthritis, and it is one of the leading causes of disability in the country. While there is no cure for arthritis, physical therapy can help manage pain and improve function for those with the condition.
Arthritis is a term used to describe a group of conditions that cause inflammation in the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. Each type of arthritis affects the joints differently and requires a specific treatment plan.
Physical therapy is an essential component of arthritis management because it helps relieve pain, improve range of motion, and build strength. But it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program and to remember PT is not a replacement for medical treatment but rather an addition to overall care. A physical therapist will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs and goals.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Relieve Arthritis Pain
- Reduce pain and inflammation: Physical therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation in arthritic joints. PTs may use various treatment modalities such as:
- Ultrasound Therapy to help increase blood circulation to patient’s deep tissues.
- Heat and ice to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Manual techniques such as massage and joint mobilization to improve joint mobility and decrease pain.
- Electrical Stimulation to increase strength and aid in fatigue resistance.
- Aquatic Therapy is done in a pool to relax muscles and improve physical function through exercise and movement in the water.
- Increase strength and flexibility: Physical therapy can help increase muscle strength and flexibility. Strong muscles can help support arthritic joints and reduce pain. PTs can create an exercise program that is tailored to a patient’s specific needs and abilities. This may include exercises to strengthen the muscles around the affected joint or stretches to improve flexibility.
- Improve joint mobility: Arthritis can cause joints to become stiff and difficult to move. Physical therapy can help improve joint mobility through targeted exercises and stretches. PTs can also teach patients how to use assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, to help improve mobility.
- Teach proper body mechanics: Physical therapy can teach patients proper body mechanics to help reduce stress on arthritic joints. PTs can teach patients how to move and lift correctly to avoid exacerbating arthritis symptoms. They can also teach patients how to modify activities to reduce joint stress.
- Provide education and support: Physical therapists can provide education and support to patients with arthritis. PTs can teach patients about the causes of arthritis, how to manage symptoms, and how to prevent further joint damage. They can also provide emotional support to patients who may be struggling with the challenges of living with arthritis.
Physical Therapy Benefits for Common Types of Arthritis
Physical therapy can be beneficial for patients with all types of arthritis. Here are some of the ways that physical therapy can help relieve some of the most common types of arthritis:
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis that occurs when the protective cartilage in the joints wears down over time. Physical therapy can help relieve osteoarthritis pain by improving joint mobility, increasing muscle strength, and teaching patients how to modify activities to reduce joint stress.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Physical therapy can help relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain by reducing inflammation using treatment techniques outlined above. PT can also help by improving joint mobility and increasing muscle strength.
- Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs in people with psoriasis. Many of the same PT treatment techniques can also help relieve psoriatic arthritis pain. They can improve joint mobility, increase muscle strength, and teach patients how to modify activities to reduce joint stress.
Length of Therapy Sessions and Estimated Time to See Results
Physical therapy treatment plans are customized to each individual and their condition. So, a treatment plan for a person with osteoarthritis of the knee may look very different than the plan prepared for a person with rheumatoid arthritis affecting the knee. While treatment sessions will vary depending on the severity of the condition, the average therapy session can last between 45 to 60 minutes. The first appointment typically lasts longer, as it will take time for a physical therapist to assess the individual’s condition and determine the appropriate treatment plan.
Most people can expect to see results from physical therapy within about 6-8 weeks of starting treatment. While results depend greatly on factors like age, injury, and physical capabilities, results will also vary based on the following:
- Number of sessions per week attended
- Adherence to the treatment plan both during active sessions and at home
- Consistency and effort
- Communication between patient and therapist in setting realistic goals
If you are living with arthritis, physical therapy may be an effective way to manage your pain and improve your quality of life. By working with a physical therapist, an individualized treatment plan can be developed that is tailored to your specific needs and goals. With the right care, you can reduce pain, improve mobility, and enjoy a better quality of life.
If you are experiencing symptoms of arthritis and are tired of struggling with pain, visit one of our Professional Physical Therapy clinics near you. Get started and request an appointment for a consultation so you can feel better and get back to doing the things you love.