Joint Pain? Physical Therapy Can Help Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common condition that impacts about 27 million Americans a year, and is experienced among many men and women as they age. Targeted physical therapy, along with appropriate physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can help slow the onset of osteoarthritis and reduce the pain and stiffness associated with this condition.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is what we think of when we say “arthritis.” It’s the inflammation of the joint caused by deterioration of cartilage and protective tissue. Osteoarthritis is common in weight bearing joints, such as hips and knees. The pain stems from bone-on-bone friction during movement, caused by cartilage and tissue wearing away. Osteoarthritis is different from rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks the joints.
What causes osteoarthritis?
A number of factors can contribute to osteoarthritis, including age, past injuries, overuse injuries from athletics, occupations that require repetitive weight-bearing activities, genetics and obesity.
How can physical therapy help?
Physical therapy is a noninvasive way to minimize the progression of osteoarthritis, lessen the pain caused by it and improve strength and flexibility. PT for osteoarthritis is widely seen as an alternative to surgery and prescription pain killers. A physical therapist will begin by assessing the extent of the joint inflammation, how it impacts your body mechanics and how to strengthen and or stretch the muscles surrounding and supporting the joint. This assessment will be used to create an individualized treatment plan aimed at reducing pain and inflammation and maximizing pain free movement.
What kind of treatment can I expect?
A physical therapist will perform a number of different modalities, including ice and manual therapy with soft tissue work to help reduce pain. He or she will prescribe exercises that improve range of motion, muscle strength and balance. The therapist will also have the patient perform low impact stretches and exercises that help build strength in the muscles surrounding joints. For example, patients with osteoarthritis of the knee will perform exercises that help strengthen the quadriceps, helping to relieve pressure on the joint. Finally, the physical therapist will help the patient establish a lifelong maintenance plan for joint health.
Is physical activity important?
Light to moderate physical activity can make a big difference in the quality of life of osteoarthritis patients. Swimming, walking and bike riding are all activities that can help build strength without introducing unnecessary load on the joints. These exercises, along with a healthy diet and plenty of water, can help overweight patients lose weight, an important step in reducing extra joint pain and pressure.
It’s important to remember that your therapist will also advise an at home plan to complement the work accomplished in the clinic for lifelong self-management of osteoarthritis symptoms.
Sachiko Garner, PT, is a licensed Physical Therapist. Employed with HPRC since 2005, she received her MSPT degree in 2004 at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and her BS degree in Exercise Science/Athletic Training at Columbus State University in 2001. She is credentialed as a Clinical Instructor and certified in the treatment of myofascial pain and dysfunction with dry needling and ASTYM. Her specialties and interests include shoulder rehabilitation, post-breast cancer rehabilitation including lymphedema and running biomechanics. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and Orthopedic Section of the APTA.