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One of the treatment methods that doctors recommend for patients with arthritis is physical therapy, which can be very beneficial. This article outlines 11 different ways that physical therapy can help treat arthritis.

There is currently no cure for arthritis, a disease characterized by the inflammation of joints. Fortunately, there are several medications and treatment methods that can help prevent disease progression, reduce symptoms and maintain function of joints. One of the treatments that doctors frequently prescribe for patients with arthritis is physical therapy. This is because arthritis sufferers often experience stiff joints as they avoid conducting movements that cause them pain. However, the lack of movement actually worsens the stiffness and pain. This is where physical therapists can help.

The goal of physical therapy is to help patients get back to a point where they are able to conduct normal, everyday activities without too much difficulty. Physical therapy should be initiated as early as possible in order to decrease the painful symptoms of inflammation, prevent the development of any deformities, prevent any permanent stiffness of the joints and maintain and build strength around the muscles that surround the arthritic joint. Physical therapists will teach you different strategies to relieve the discomfort you may be experiencing through your condition. It can also help improve performance by using different physical techniques and modification of activities.

These are 11 ways in which physical therapy can help treat arthritis.

1. Individualized exercise regimens

Physical therapists will work with you to help design exercises that are targeted to help you preserve mobility, strength, and use of your joints. Your physical therapist will work with you to devise a program that is tailored to your specific needs. The individualized exercise regimen will depend on whether your arthritis is widespread or confined to one region. These exercises will be specifically designed to help prevent loss of use of your joints and restore the abilities of your joints whose use may already be lost. Once the pain, swelling and stiffness are reduced and under control, the treatment plan can be intensified to include exercised that increase your range of motion and improve muscle strength and endurance.

2. Proper Body Mechanics

Physical therapists help teach you the proper body mechanics to move from one position to another in the most efficient manner and without causing pain.

3. Correct posture

Physical therapists can help correct your posture in order to protect the integrity of your joints.

4. Move independently

Physical therapists can help advise you and teach you how to use walking aids such as a walker, cane or crutches so you can move more efficiently, independently and without substantial pain. Additionally, if you have mild to moderate arthritis of the knee or ankle, then your therapist can recommend a knee or ankle brace that will support your joint and allow you more freedom to conduct everyday activities such as walking and hiking.

5. Participate in more activities

Physical therapists will work with you to help you become more active, maintain your fitness and maintain your ability to partake in activities independently and without significant help from other people.

6. Education

Physical therapists will teach you more about the type of arthritis you have, what joints are affected, what to expect and the exercises that can help treat it. Therefore, undergoing physical therapy will actually make you better informed about your condition.

7. Foot orthoses

Physical therapists will help advise you on the different types of orthotics or foot care that you can access to improve your condition. For example, they will provide you information on where to find shoes that are well-fitting with shock-absorbing outer soles and orthotic insoles that contour to your feet. Using these can help make everyday activities, such as walking, easier and more efficient.

8. Weight loss

As physical therapy involves exercise, one of the most prominent benefits of physical therapy is maintenance of weight or weight loss. Extra weight on the body adds extra pressure onto your joints, which compounds the problems that are already caused by arthritic inflammation. Therefore, following exercise regimens can help reduce weight, which will be beneficial for your overall condition.

9. Rest

Physical therapists will educate you on other ways to help your condition, such as getting enough rest. Rest is very important in patients with arthritis, as it helps reduce both inflammation and pain of joints. This is especially beneficial when you have involvement of multiple joints and experience significant levels of fatigue. Your physical therapist will inform you how to best overcome fatigue and what the ideal levels of rest between activities are. Furthermore, your physical therapist can recommend custom-made splints that can be made to facilitate rest and support inflamed joints. Additionally, the physical therapist can recommend you a type of soft collar that can support your back while you are sitting or standing.

10. Pain relief

Physical therapists can educate you on different ways to relive pain, such as applying heat or cold to the affected region. Important, heating joints and muscles through the use of a warm bath or shower before conducting your exercise regimen can you help exercise more easily.

11. Surgical rehabilitation

Physical therapy is especially useful after a fall or after joint surgery, particularly artificial joint replacement. Physical therapists can help by designing your preoperative programs, which start before the joint replacement surgery and can be conducted at home. The exercises can then be altered after the surgery to help rehabilitate you. These post-surgical exercises can be added to your usual exercise regimen, which can help improve your ability to exercise after surgery.

  • Steinbrocker, Otto, Cornelius H. Traeger, and Robert C. Batterman. "Therapeutic criteria in rheumatoid arthritis." Journal of the American Medical Association 140.8 (1949): 659-662.
  • Eurenius, Eva, Christina H. Stenström, and PARA Study Group. "Physical activity, physical fitness, and general health perception among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis." Arthritis Care & Research 53.1 (2005): 48-55.
  • Kavuncu, Vural, and Deniz Evcik. "Physiotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis." Medscape General Medicine 6.2 (2004).
  • Hurkmans, E. J., et al. "Physiotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis: development of a practice guideline." Acta reumatologica portuguesa 36.2 (2011).
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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