How Physical Therapy can Reduce Pain from Arthritis
People who live with arthritis can experience severe pain and stiffness and even physical deformities due to their condition. There are many different forms of arthritis depending on the underlying cause and they can affect joints in people of all ages and just about anywhere in the body where bones are adjacent to each other. Some of them are autoimmune causes meaning that the arthritis is caused by a reaction of your own body’s cells to parts of a joint, while other causes can be due to wear and tear from use over time.
Physical therapy is one treatment option for people who live with arthritis that causes them pain. By doing regular exercises that target affected joints, the body’s tissues surrounding the joints become stronger and more flexible. Over time, stronger tissues improve joint mobility and reduce the pain associated with movement or use.
Regardless of the actual type of arthritis a person lives with, the symptoms they experience are real and can be debilitating. Every tool that can be used to improve their daily activities also improves their quality of life and independence. Physical therapy is one of the most underutilised tools, but it is effective and potentially life-changing.
What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is an area of rehabilitative medicine that involves a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises to improve a person’s well-being. Physical therapy is usually implemented after an injury, a surgery, or to help manage symptoms of a chronic illness. The goal of physical therapy is to preserve or improve a person’s ability to move comfortably, maintain proper balance and coordination, and reduce pain, tension, and stress. There are specialised forms of physical therapy for people working in certain occupations or recovering from specific injuries as well.
Do People with Arthritis Need Physical Therapy?
Arthritis in any form can cause a variety of symptoms that impact a person’s quality of life. The treatments for arthritis vary quite widely, though they are usually intended to alleviate the symptoms rather than cure the disease. Most often, a combination of different therapies and treatments is used to help people with arthritis continue living as they did before their arthritis started. These treatment options can include a combination of exercise and physical therapy, using braces or orthotics, taking oral medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or painkillers, or even steroid injections.
Whether or not a person will be prescribed all of these or some combination of these treatments will depend on the severity of their arthritis and the impact of it on their day to day functioning and lifestyle. The usual first line treatment for arthritis includes a combination of exercise and physical therapy, as well as NSAIDs to help manage the pain and inflammation. For this reason, most people with arthritis do benefit from physical therapy that includes regular exercises.
How Physical Therapy can Reduce Pain from Arthritis
Arthritis involves the inflammation of joint spaces which are the areas where two or more bones come together in the body. When the inflammation worsens, it can cause pain in the joints when they are used, or sometimes even at rest. One of the reasons the pain develops is because the space in the joint diminishes and bones begin to rub against each other. While it would be great if people could simply change their oil and be up and running again in no time, that is unfortunately not how the body works. Instead, physical therapy and regular exercises will strengthen the muscles that surround the joints, keeping the bones from rubbing against each other as much. When the bones aren’t rubbing against each other, people experience less pain. Similarly, stretching exercises can make the ligaments which attach bones to each other more flexible, also reducing the friction of bones against each other which causes many people pain.
How Does Physical Therapy Work in the Body?
Physical therapy produces therapeutic effects in the body which are beneficial to people experiencing a wide variety of ailments. Anyone who undergoes surgery or has had injuries to the joints in their neck, back, shoulders, hips, knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, hands, feet, or even their jaw can benefit from physical therapy.
By doing regular stretching and strengthening exercises, the body increases blood flow to the affected and involved parts of the body, resulting in improved recovery times. These actions also work to increase flexibility of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons which attach the muscles to the bones. Since physical therapy exercises make use of our muscles, they strengthen the muscles and improve their ability to carry out their intended functions. This can significantly improve a person’s day to day functions, their mobility, and in turn, improves their overall health and decreases their stress levels.
What Type of Physical Therapy Activities Would be Beneficial for Arthritis?
Physical therapy is a helpful treatment option for anyone living with arthritis. A physical therapy regimen should include a combination of different types of movements that fall under one of three categories:
- Stretching – when our joints hurt when we use them, we tend to use them less. Stretching exercises enable you to increase the mobility of the joint so it doesn’t feel as stiff when you use it. Less stiffness will also encourage you to use your joints more since there will be less pain associated with its use.
- Strengthening – regular and repetitive exercises that strengthen our muscles surrounding our joints improves the joint’s function and reduces pain associated with movement and use. These exercises can be passive exercises which don’t make use of any equipment, or they can be active and augmented with the use of equipment such as resistance bands or even small weights.
- Fitness – doing exercise regularly that increases your heart rate to a healthy level for an extended time improves your body’s ability to recover from injury and improves your cardiovascular health. Believe it or not, bones also require blood flow, so doing exercise increases blood flow to every body part and helps your body’s many systems work at their best.
While these are categories of activities you can do under a physical therapy regimen, it is best to consult a healthcare professional or physical therapist who can customise a plan that takes into account your specific needs and seeks to address your issues. Unsupervised or undirected exercise can result in injury or even worsening of your arthritis.
How to get Physical Therapy
The best way to get physical therapy is to consult a healthcare professional who can provide guidance or a referral to a licenced physical therapist. You can do physical therapy at a clinic, in your home, in a rehabilitation centre, or in a public space like a gymnasium or park. The specific location will depend on any arrangements you make with your physical therapist, but they can also provide you with exercises that you can do on your own. If you live with arthritis or another ailment where you feel that physical therapy would benefit you, you may qualify for disability assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme or other support organisations. Contact us at Maple Community Services and we can help you figure out the right solution to address your physical therapy needs and get you started on the path to a more active life as soon as possible.