Pain Relief for Arthritis
Has getting in and out of your favorite chair become one of your least favorite activities? Do your joints feel decades older than the rest of you? Do you wish you could enjoy all your favorite activities without paying the price in pain and stiffness? If so, you’re probably one of the millions of Americans struggling with arthritis. The Cleveland Clinic states that as many as 1 in 5 people in the U.S. experience some form of this joint disorder. Drugs may promise temporary pain relief, but their risks and side effects can outweigh the limited benefits they provide for your aching joints. But there’s a way to obtain a healthier, more effective form of relief — by contacting our physical therapist today and scheduling a course of physical therapy.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a more complicated challenge than many people realize, if only because the term really just describes any condition that causes chronic joint pain and inflammation. Over 100 different disorders fall into this broad category, including:
- Osteoarthritis – A degenerative joint condition and the most common form of arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis – the second-most common form of arthritis, in which auto-immune reactions target (in in some cases, disfigure) the joints
- Psoriatic arthritis – Another type of arthritis triggered by the immune system, seen in individuals who also have psoriasis.
- Gout – A painful form of arthritis that likes to attack the joints of the toes.
What Causes Arthritis?
Different kinds of arthritis can attack different segments of the population, from children to the elderly. While osteoarthritis typically develops as the joints undergo a lifetime of wear and tear, it can also occur more quickly in joints that receive lots of punishment through repetitive motion (such as the knees and ankles of runners or the shoulders and elbows of baseball pitchers). Obesity can also contribute, since extra weight means extra stress on joints. (Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet also figure heavily in gout.)
The body’s own defense mechanism can turn into your joints’ worst enemy. In rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, the immune system launches a misguided attack against the tissues of the joints. Even a more accurately-targeted response against a proper germ can produce the inflammation of infectious/septic arthritis.
How Physical Therapy Helps Arthritis
Standard medical recommendations for arthritis include drugs and, in the most extreme cases, surgery. Most of the medications available for arthritis can do nothing more than ease pain and swelling for a few hours — with no meaningful aid to joint health and flexibility. At the other end of the scale, invasive surgery to fuse arthritic joints creates its own set of painful issues while permanently robbing you of joint motion. Physical therapy can help you achieve more pain-free flexibility and mobility, on a lasting basis, without any of the downsides of these other treatments.
Our physical therapist will get to know your arthritis in as much detail as possible before recommending a physical therapy program. Once we understand the underlying cause of your arthritis, and exactly how that arthritis is affecting your quality of life, we can devise a personalized treatment regimen which may include:
- Exercise – The Arthritis Foundation heartily recommends physical therapy exercises for osteoarthritis; this approach can also prove invaluable for rheumatoid arthritis. Depending on the severity of your condition, we may prescribe underwater exercises, passive range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises to stabilize the joints, and/or light aerobic exercise to get the blood flowing and boost your cardiovascular wellness.
- Soft tissue therapies – Manual therapy techniques such as Swedish massage therapy or deep tissue therapy can do a great deal to relieve arthritis pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, and other soft tissue therapies can also help.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes – Our physical therapist can recommend specific strategies to get your weight down,improve your nutritional balance, and adopt a more joint-healthy lifestyle.
Do your joints feel stiff, achy, or painful, especially when you wake up in the morning? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of arthritis. This is one of the most common symptoms of arthritis, but it is common to also expereince accompanying symptoms. Other sensations you may experience with arthritis include pain in the affected region, which may spread to surrounding body parts; persistent stiffness; inflammation; muscle spasms, joint creaking, clicking, or popping sounds; increased pain with certain activities, such as work or exercise; decreased range of motion in the affected area, abnormalities in gait, such as limping; swelling; weakness; and a warm sensation in the affected joint.
Regardless of the cause of arthritis, physical therapy plays a major role in the treatment of its symptoms. Your physical therapist will conduct a physical evaluation to analyze your joint movement, muscle strength, and overall function, in order to pinpoint the exact areas that are causing you pain. You will then be prescribed a personalized treatment plan, focused around your specific needs. Treatment plans will include targeted stretches and exercises aimed at relieving your pain and improving your function, in addition to any specialized methods your physical therapist deems fit. This may include manual therapy, ice and heat therapies, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound. Your physical therapist may also include additional services as needed, such as weight management techniques to help ease some stress on your joints, and/or posture improvement to relieve stiffness and prevent injury.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis, containing monoarthritis (where only one joint is affected) and oligoarthritis (where multiple joints are affected). According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 54.4 million U.S. adults are diagnosed with some form of arthritis per year. As we age, the cartilage in our joints wears down, causing painful bone-on-bone rubbing, inflammation, stiffness, and pain. While it is possible for arthritis to develop in any of the joints, the fingers, elbows, shoulders, lower back, hips, and knees are among the most common.
While there is no cure for arthritis yet, it is possible to alleviate arthritic symptoms by improving your joint movement, muscle strength, balance, and coordination through physical therapy treatments. In some cases, physical therapy can even make it possible to eliminate symptoms entirely. For best results, it is in your best interest to consult with a physical therapist as soon as you begin noticing arthritic symptoms. The sooner they get treated, the easier they are to manage. Whatever type of arthritis you may be suffering from, physical therapy undoubtedly plays an important role in pain relief. In addition, it can also help you avoid the need for harmful pain-management drugs or invasive surgical correction.