As a Physical therapist, one of the most common questions I’m asked is “How is physical therapy going to help my arthritis? Hasn’t the damage already been done?” This is a great question. Let’s start first by defining the term Osteoarthritis. The Mayo Clinic defines Osteoarthritis as “The gradual deterioration of cartilage that cushions the ends of bones.” This deterioration of cartilage eventually causes stiffness, inflammation and pain in the affected joints. The truth is, is that most people over the age of 65 have some form of arthritis and millions of these people have no symptoms at all. I personally have encountered numerous patients that have “bone on bone arthritis” with no complaints of pain and are simply attending therapy to try and prevent any occurrence of pain in the future.
The answer is Inflammation. The inflammatory phase that is developed by Osteoarthritis causes swelling, stiffness and pain in the affected joints. This causes people to avoid doing some of the most common things we do in everyday life like walking, exercising, stairs and maintaining an active healthy lifestyle. This ultimately leads to more weakness, stiffness and activity modification, resulting in increasing levels of disability.
When I encounter a patient that is dealing with Arthritic pain, my primary focus is attempting to calm down that inflammatory phase. We can do this by a variety of different ways including soft tissue mobilization (massage), hands on techniques to increase joint space, stretching and eventually progress to strengthening to help provide support, decrease joint compression, and aid in shock absorption long term. If we can work together to help calm down that inflammatory phase, chances are that you will experience a decrease in pain and disability.
So if you find yourself avoiding some of your favorite things or modifying the way you perform activities at home to avoid pain, I suggest you call a physical therapist to be evaluated and discuss a personalized plan of care to help you return to the things you love.
Jared Howell, PT, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Clinical Director at Total Therapy Florida Osprey