Physiotherapy for Arthritis

Physiotherapy for Arthritis

We are all familiar with the word ‘arthritis’ but, probably, very few of us realise that there are approximately 150 different forms of arthritis. The two best known forms are OSTEOARTHRITIS and RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS. Here, we will discuss the difference between the two, their most common symptoms, and the best treatment for arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis commonly occurs as part of the ageing process whereby the joint cartilage lining is worn down in much the same way as our car tyres do as mileage increases. This wear and tear process can be accelerated by:

  • injury to joints
  • overuse of the joints, as occurs in some occupations eg. knees in bricklayers
  • excess weight or abnormal forces which increase the load through a joint and can increase painful symptoms.

OSTEOARTHRITIS can occur in any joint but most commonly affects spinal joints, hips and knees, as these are the major load-bearing joints of the body. The joint cartilage changes of osteoarthritis are permanent, but the pain and associated loss of function can be modified with physiotherapy treatment.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis may vary. Minor osteoarthritic changes may cause mild pain only when the joint is subjected to trauma or when the activity level is increased. More marked degenerative changes can cause significant pain and limitation of function. Severe osteoarthritis may require surgery, such as a total hip or knee replacement.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS is an active inflammatory disease which attacks and erodes joint structures, often causing joint deformities, most commonly in the hands, feet and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to follow a pattern of flare-ups when the disease is actively progressing, and remissions when only residual symptoms are present. During flare-ups activity level may need to be limited. During remissions patients will benefit from an exercise programme designed to increase function and reduce pain.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS of both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • pain or swelling in a joint;
  • redness or heat in a joint;
  • stiffness or difficulty in moving a joint, particularly first thing in the morning
  • joint deformity.

Treatment for arthritis, both for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, usually involves physiotherapy management and may also include the use of anti-inflammatory medication.
Physiotherapy for arthritis aims to:

  • Reduce pain and swelling through the use of electrotherapy and either ice or heat;
  • Increase joint range with gentle passive movements;
  • Use muscle stretches and strengthening exercises to restore the correct muscle balance around the damaged joint. Increasing muscle strength can often provide enough support to the joint to greatly reduce pain and increase function;
  • Splints may be used to protect joints from further damage occurring.

In cases of marked osteoarthritis, an operation such as a total hip or knee replacement may be required. Physiotherapists are involved in preparing the patient prior to surgery and in restoring maximum function post-operatively.

Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis and physiotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis both usually involve a home exercise program which may include hydrotherapy (exercise in water), cycling or walking. 

The program is individually designed to best suit the patient’s particular problems. Exercises promote improved posture and circulation as well as helping to lubricate the joints. Muscle strength and endurance are improved, thereby increasing the ability to perform activities of daily living.

Are you suffering from arthritis? Do you need rheumatoid or osteoarthritis physiotherapy treatment? Call PhysioChoice today, and we’ll discuss with you the best physiotherapy solution that suits your needs.

Blog by Brittany Romas – Physiotherapist, PhysioChoice Hampton.

Brittany holds a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Master of Physiotherapy from La Trobe University. She is currently studying for her Masters of Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy at La Trobe University. She is an avid powerlifter and has a strong interest in strength conditioning, acute sports injuries, and occupational-related conditions. Brittany has spent time in South East Asia working with paediatric patients with a large range of neurological disorders; she has developed a keen interest in providing disability support in conjunction with the NDIS. Brittany believes in a holistic approach to her client’s rehabilitation and treatments, including Hydrotherapy, Dry Needling and Clinical Pilates.

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