What can PT do for Arthritis?
Arthritis is simply inflammation of a joint. There are two major types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Both are painful and cause damage to the joints. Physical therapy is beneficial in treating both conditions.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is usually associated with age. It generally effects the larger joints of the body: hips, knees, shoulders, and the spine. It is characterized by swelling of the joints, stiffness with initial movement, and in severe cases can lead to the need for joint replacement. The inflammation in the joint is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones where they meet in the joint. The cartilage is there as a smooth surface to reduce friction. Over time, it can become roughened up. When the joint is moved over this rough surface popping and clicking can occur, and over time this can become painful. In addition, the lining of the joint that secretes fluid to keep the joint lubricated, can become inflamed and painful, a condition known as synovitis. This can cause the fluid within the joint to become thick and sticky, instead of thin and slippery. This further increases pain in the joint with movement. Left untreated, arthritis can lead to decreased mobility of the joint, and decreased strength of the muscles surrounding the joint. This will cause further damage to the joint and can lead to the need for surgery.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disorder in which the body attacks itself, specifically at the joints. It is most common in the smaller joints of the fingers, wrists, and sometimes the elbows and ankles. It can effect the larger joints as well, especially in younger people diagnosed with the disease. It can cause severe deformity and destruction of the joints, usually within the first 2 years of diagnosis. RA can also effect the skin, blood vessels, and organs. It is very important to be diagnosed early and start treatment to maintain joint health and function.
Physical Therapy can help!
Physical therapy is a great first step in the treatment of arthritis. The focus is on maintaining joint alignment and function, and improving strength of the surrounding muscles that support the joint. Because movement of an arthritic joint is painful, many people who suffer with it simply stop moving that joint. Their body tends to find the “path of least resistance”, and without even knowing it, a person begins to avoid moving the joint. The lack of movement leads to weakness of the surrounding muscles, which leads to poor support of the joint and even more painful movement. It is a cycle that leads to more and more pain along with more and more dysfunction. Your physical therapist can show you ways to move the joint to maintain range of motion, while reducing the pain of movement. They can also show you exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint to help support it, reducing pain.
Many people think that aches, pains and stiffness in their joints is normal as they age.
It is NOT NORMAL to have pain, at any age. Chances are, if you are beginning to have pain, that you have some early signs of wear and tear on your joints. Maybe growing up you were a gymnast or dancer and now you have low back pain in the morning, or you’re a runner that experiences knee pain during the first 20 minutes of your run, but then it goes away. These are early signs of arthritis and should be addressed NOW!