Osteoarthritis often requires a combination of treatment methods to minimize symptoms and maintain flexibility and range of motion. While medications and home treatments can relieve some of the pain and swelling associated with arthritis, exercise and physical therapy can help patients move better and prevent injury to their joints. Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis helps with movement, exercise, and strengthening. Some physiotherapy-related treatments also help reduce inflammation and joint pain.
Patients with osteoarthritis often fail to exercise and move frequently because movement can lead to increased pain in the damaged joints; this, however, often leads to stiffness, which causes more pain. It is important for arthritis patients to engage in gentle exercise to keep their joints as flexible as possible and prevent further damage from inactivity. Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis teaches patients range of motion and strengthening exercises to show them how to exercise with minimal pain and risk of injury. Therapists also provide patients with exercises and stretches to do at home to maintain joint health and relieve stiffness.
Physical therapists teach osteoarthritis patients safe ways to move and engage in everyday activities in addition to exercise. For example, they may educate an osteoarthritis patient whose knees or hips are affected how to walk with a cane or move from the bed to a chair or standing position with minimal pain and stress on the joints. Therapists also educate patients on how to alter their activities to use their stronger joints and avoid excess pressure or stress on the stiffest joints.
Massage, ultrasound, heat, and ice therapy are often provided as a part of physiotherapy for arthritis. Therapists can massage affected joints to loosen muscles and provide pain relief, and therapy through heating packs or ultrasound machines help relieve spasms around stiff and swollen joints to minimize symptoms. Using ice packs also helps reduce swelling, which is a main cause of pain in osteoarthritis patients.
Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis focuses on a patients unique situation and symptoms. A therapist works with the patient to educate him about the disease and develop a treatment plan that will provide the best outcomes. This makes physiotherapy, at least for a short time, typically more beneficial than engaging in home-based treatments and exercise programs without the help and knowledge of a trained professional.
Therapists familiar with using physiotherapy for osteoarthritis patients can also help act as a liaison and advocate for the patient. Physical therapists are familiar with a patient’s overall progress and limitations and can work together with doctors, surgeons, and other members of the patient’s healthcare team to provide a seamless plan. Some osteoarthritis patients require only a short period of physiotherapy, while others go continuously for months to help regain lost joint function.