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Can Physical Therapy Help Your Arthritis?


Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While it may be associated with aging, it can strike at any age, causing pain and limiting mobility. For those living with arthritis, finding effective treatment options is a priority. One such option that holds promise is physical therapy. In this article, we'll explore the question: Can Physical Therapy Help Your Arthritis?

Understanding Arthritis

Before we dive into the role of physical therapy, it's crucial to understand what arthritis is. Arthritis is a term that refers to the inflammation of one or more joints. There are many types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. All of these can result in joint pain, stiffness, and decreased quality of life. It is important to note that, particularly with osteoarthritis, diagnosis cannot be made on the results of imaging alone. The results of scans need to be interpreted accurately in combination with a thorough subjective assessment and clinical examination. It is also important to recognize that the degree of damage on a scan doesn’t often correlate with symptom severity or prognosis. 

The Role of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a non-invasive approach to managing arthritis that focuses on improving mobility, reducing pain, and enhancing overall function and well-being. A licensed physical therapist can design a customized treatment plan tailored to your specific type of arthritis and its severity. Here are some ways physical therapy can help:

Pain Management: Physical therapists use various techniques to alleviate pain, such as manual therapy and therapeutic exercises.

Improved load tolerance: Even in a joint in which the structure has changed, we can still train the ability to tolerate load and stress with less pain, through a process of graded exposure. Physical therapists are experts in progressing and regressing a person’s joint loading based on their response to activity. 

Improved Mobility: As the load tolerance of a joint increases, the sensitivity associated with getting into positions decreases, which in turn leads to improved mobility. Physical Therapists can also use specific techniques such as joint mobilisations to further optimize one’s range of motion, and also teach people to perform these movements themselves. 

Strengthening Muscles: Building muscle strength around affected joints can provide added support, reducing the strain on those joints.

Education: Physical therapists educate patients on arthritis management, including activity and pacing strategies & lifestyle modifications, as well as educating patients around the broader concepts of pain, which has been shown to decrease pain levels. 

Assistive Devices: They may recommend assistive devices like splints or braces to reduce stress on joints.

Patient-Centered Care: Each therapy plan is tailored to the individual, addressing their unique needs and goals.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Arthritis

There are numerous benefits to incorporating physical therapy into your arthritis management plan. These benefits include:

Pain Reduction: Physical therapy can significantly reduce pain, allowing you to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Improved Functionality: Increased mobility and muscle strength can lead to improved joint functionality.

Reduced Reliance on Medication: Many patients find that as their physical therapy progresses, they need less medication to manage their arthritis.

Enhanced Independence: The ability to perform daily tasks with less difficulty contributes to greater independence.

Avoidance of Surgery: In some cases, effective physical therapy can help patients avoid the need for surgical intervention.

Better Overall Health: Physical therapy not only targets arthritis but also promotes general health and well-being.

Physical therapy offers a promising approach to managing arthritis, enhancing mobility, and improving overall well-being. If you're living with arthritis, it's worth considering physical therapy as a non-invasive and effective option for your arthritis management. Consult with a healthcare professional and a licensed physical therapist to develop a customized treatment plan that suits your unique needs.

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