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Physical Therapy for Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

 Physical Therapy for Arthritis

Living with arthritis can be a nightmare—pain and stiffness prevent you from opening the jelly jar in the morning, or your knees burn as you climb the stairs for bed each night. Fortunately, Physical therapy for arthritis relieves symptoms and slows disease progression. The physical therapist works to alleviate aching, stiff joints through manual therapy, targeted exercises, hot and cold therapy, and massage.

How effective is physical therapy for arthritis pain?

Physical therapy is highly effective in relieving pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. In a study published in the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal, patients who received clinical treatment improved twice as much as those who did home exercise.

Arthritis Types and Causes

Arthritis refers to a couple of different conditions characterized by joint pain and range of motion difficulty. While the symptoms are similar, the causes differ. For example, Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes painful swelling that often feels worse in the morning or after rest. On the other hand, osteoarthritis comes from the wear and tear of the cartilage lining the joints and irritation of soft joint tissue. Different types of arthritis require individual treatment plans. A PT can help identify and alleviate the causes of pain based on the patients’ needs. 

Symptoms of Arthritis 

Arthritis can occur in many joints from the shoulders to the feet. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects weight-bearing joints in the knees and hips. In comparison, rheumatoid arthritis starts in the fingers and toes and migrates to larger joints such as ankles, knees, elbows, and hips. Moderate to severe arthritis can impair your ability to complete activities of daily living such as bathing, cooking, and walking. Early signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Reduced range of motion

Arthritis Treatments

Stretching, massage, and physical therapy are the least invasive treatments for arthritis. Other interventions include medication such as anti-inflammatories, steroids, and/or immunosuppressives for rheumatoid. Extremely severe cases of each type may require joint replacement surgery. Physical therapy is often the preferred treatment for arthritis because it is most effective and least invasive in the early stages of the disease. 

Physical Therapy for Arthritis 

The most significant benefit of working with a physical therapist is individualized treatment plans. Medications treat all pain the same—they treat  the symptoms rather than treating the cause. In contrast, physical therapy has the tools to provide targeted solutions to each individual’s pain. Manual therapy, hot and cold therapy, and therapeutic massage can dramatically improve the range of motion for most arthritis patients. 

Getting Help for Arthritis Pain

Is chronic joint pain impacting your life? It’s time to talk to a PT about tailored treatment options. If you need physical therapy for arthritis, schedule an appointment with one of our expert therapists today. 

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