Health & Fitness

Role of physical therapy in treatment of arthritis

arthritis

Are you having joint pains? Arthritis is an illness that can cause pain and swelling in your joints. Some kinds of arthritis cause problems in other organs, such as eyes or the chest. It can affect your skin too.

How can physical therapists help?

Physical therapists can teach you exercises designed to preserve the strength and use of your joints. They can show you the best way to move from one position to another. They can also teach you how to use walking aids such as crutches, a walker, or a cane when needed.

The therapists on your health care team will work closely with your doctor to tailor a program to your specific needs, whether your arthritic problems are widespread or confined to one joint or body area.

The goals of treatment are to:

• Prevent loss of use of the joints.

• Restore abilities that may have been lost.

• Help you adapt to new activity levels.

• Maintain your fitness.

• Maintain your ability to take part in the activities you choose with minimal help from others.

Therapy should be started early to reduce painful symptoms of inflammation, prevent deformity and permanent joint stiffness, and maintain strength in the surrounding muscles.

When pain and swelling are better controlled, treatment plans may include exercises to increase range of motion, and improve muscle strength and endurance.

What are some benefits of physical therapy programs?

Physical therapy programmes may provide:

• Education about your kind of arthritis, so that you can be a well-informed member of your health care team.

• Foot care advice, including information on how to choose well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbing outer soles, and sculptured (orthotic) insoles molded exactly to the contour of each foot.

• Therapeutic methods, including physical techniques and activity modifications, to relieve discomfort and improve performance.

Joint protection tips

A therapist can show you ways to do everyday tasks without worsening pain or producing joint damage. Some joint protection techniques include:

• Use proper body mechanics to get in and out of a car, chair or tub, as well as for lifting objects.

• Use your strongest joints and muscles to reduce the stress on smaller joints. For example, carry a purse or briefcase with a shoulder strap rather than in your hand.

• Distribute pressure to minimise stress on any one joint. Lift dishes with both palms rather than with your fingers, and carry heavy loads in your arms instead of with your hands.

• If your hands are affected by arthritis, avoid tight gripping, pinching, squeezing, and twisting. Ways to accomplish the same tasks with alternate methods or tools can usually be found.

Top tips for arthritis care

• Keep active. Work on keeping your muscles strong and your joints moving.

• Maintain a healthy weight, so your body is not too heavy for your joints to carry.

• Avoid making an inflamed joint worse.

• Get advice on how to manage your condition yourself.

• Seek advice to see if walking aids, a support or brace would help.

• Good posture will help you carry your body weight evenly, using both your arthritic and non-arthritic joints. Poor posture can cause problems with your healthy joints, as well as your digestion and breathing.

• Use cooling packs over painful joints according to manufacturer's instructions. The area round the joint should have good circulation and don’t leave the pack on for too long.