Arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. The hips, knees, hands, and spine are the most commonly affected joints. Arthritis is not a single disease but an umbrella term that includes a variety of different types. Some of the more common examples are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
While physical therapy might not be the first treatment you think of for arthritis, it probably should be.
A lot of people with arthritis choose to use medication to manage their pain, stop doing activities that are uncomfortable or painful, and may even wait for things to get bad enough to require a joint replacement. But waiting is not a great plan - all medications have side effects, even over the counter ones. Reducing activity leads to muscle atrophy and even stiffer joints. Even though joint replacement surgery usually has good outcomes, it does come with its own set of risks and a painful recovery.
Physical therapy has been extensively researched as a treatment for arthritis, and demonstrates good outcomes. Physical therapists typically start with exercise as the base for arthritis treatment. Exercise helps to regain lost joint motion, decrease feelings of stiffness, and strengthen muscles surrounding the affected joint. These benefits are all somewhat obvious. What surprises many people is that exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication for pain relief in many types of arthritis, without the side effects.
Physical therapy has more to offer people with arthritis than just exercise though. Education helps people understand their condition, what to expect, and how to manage it. As experts in human movement, physical therapists are especially good at helping people modify the way they perform certain tasks or activities to reduce strain on joints affected by arthritis. They can also suggest ways to modify the environment at work or home to reduce pain and improve function. They may also suggest things like braces, orthotics, or other devices that can help maintain mobility and reduce pain. PT has also been proven to be a cost effective treatment.
As a form of physical therapy, aquatic therapy can also be particularly beneficial. With aquatic therapy, the body is supported by the buoyant water. The impact on joints is lowered. The water can also relax muscles, reduce stiffness, be a great stress reliever, and increase resistance to help to build strength.
With so many techniques that are proven effective in helping people with arthritis, physical therapy is a recommended first line treatment for many types of arthritis.
Now that you have a better understanding of what PT can do, hopefully you'll think of PT first when you think of arthritis too.
Contact us at Therafit at 978-452-9252 or visit to learn how physical therapy and aquatic therapy can help you.
Parts of this article are posted from American Physical Therapy Association.
1. Research (peer-reviewed)
PT for juvenile RA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1946625/
PT for hip and knee OA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33034560/
Systematic Review for Juvenile RA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28729171/
- Effects of Aquatic Exercises for Patients with Osteoarthritis: Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8955208/
2. Articles and Content
Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis- https://www.rheumatology.org/About-Us/Newsroom/Press- Releases/ID/718
Can physical therapy reduce arthritis pain? - https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/physical-therapy-for-arthritis