Physical Therapy for Arthritis

Arthritis causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis that develops when cartilage in a joint wears down; another type is rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation in the lining of a joint. Both types cause pain, tenderness and swelling, and can end up limiting a joint's movement. Over time, joints affected by arthritis can become severely damaged. Arthritis tends to affect older people, although athletes sometimes develop it from overuse or injury.

Therapeutic Methods for Treating Arthritis

A physical therapy program may be effective at keeping joints flexible, increasing mobility, relieving pain and, possibly, slowing degeneration. Physical therapists teach proper body mechanics and posture, which can help relieve joint pain and swelling. A physical therapy program includes the following:

  • Heat treatment
  • Range-of-motion exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage therapy

Walking, swimming and water-based exercise programs are low impact, and generally well tolerated by arthritis sufferers. Physical therapy exercises strengthen muscles, helping them to support and protect joints. This may lessen the degenerative process, and alleviate pain and inflammation. If necessary, those with arthritis can use devices such as canes or walkers to help them remain mobile. A physical therapist can help patients become accustomed to using such devices.

Some forms of arthritis respond to lifestyle changes such as losing weight and eating healthfully. Combined with a physical therapy program, these changes can help those with arthritis increase mobility and function.

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