Physical Therapy for Arthritis Pain Relief

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Did you know that the joints of most adults over the age of 18 would show arthritic changes? Of course most teenagers are not complaining about joint pain. However, it is no surprise that as time passes, and the joints undergo more wear and tear, those changes cause the symptoms that most people associate with arthritis, the most common forms of which is osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD). Arthritis most commonly affects the large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, as well as the hands, feet and spine. Arthritis can be a natural result of aging, as cartilage – the springy material that cushions against friction in the joints – begins to degenerate. It can also be caused or accelerated by other factors, such as obesity, trauma or surgery to the joint, gout or diabetes.

When treating arthritis, the goals are to reduce joint pain and inflammation, while improving and maintaining joint function. Physical therapists can offer many effective interventions to accomplish these goals.

Arthritis pain relief: Physical therapists can provide several means of reducing joint discomfort. At a basic level, some people can benefit from application of heat or cold. Which of these modalities is chosen may depend on whether inflammation is apparent in the joint. A combination of heat application prior to exercise, and cold packs after exercise, may also be beneficial. Gentle, low-grade mobilizations, which are gentle passive movements of the joint by the therapist, may also decrease pain, while also improving joint mobility.

Arthritis joint protection: Exercise is key to physical therapy for seniors with arthritis. Strengthening and stretching will improve range of motion and help protect the joint. Many elders with joint pain are afraid that exercise will make their pain worse; however, a properly designed exercise program will use appropriate exercise intensity, frequency, and duration to get positive results without exacerbating pain. Aquatic physical therapy, which is performed in a pool, can be particularly effective for those with painful arthritis, since it allows movement with the partial weight-bearing support and gentle resistance of the water. An exercise program will also include stretching to help increase range of motion in effective joints. Yoga is a great form of exercise that can combine strengthening and stretching.

Physical therapists have the knowledge and training to safely progress seniors’ therapeutic exercise programs to improve joint strength and mobility and maximize their function, as well as design a home exercise program to insure that the improvement is maintained after discharge from skilled therapy. As an added bonus, a regular exercise program can assist with weight loss, which can also decrease the symptoms of arthritis and offer many oter health benefits!

Melanie Sponholz is a Physical Therapist with a Board Certification in Geriatrics (GCS). Melanie is the Director of Quality Assurance and Professional Development at Fox Rehabilitation. She is an alumnus of Columbia University where she received a Master of Science Degree in Physical Therapy.

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2 Comments

Does anyone know how to stop or manage pain in the knee? My mom is 93 and her knee has no cartlige. Dr. says she needs a knee replacement but advises against it because she is too old and she would not survive the surgery. He has her on perkacet and pain patches but when she is on her feet she cries with the pain. She is okay as long as she is sitting still but at soon as she stands up she can't hardly bear it. The pain medication is only temporary but every morning she gets up she is crying with the pain and every time she gets up to use the bathroom she just hollers. It is tearing me up seeing her in such pain and it makes me cringe every time I watch her. She does have a power chair but she has a small bathroom and bedroom and her chair will not turn around in the small rooms. The Dr. says she needs to walk as much as possible but with every step she is crying with pain. Is there any relief for this elderly lady?
Am sure the excellent tips provided will be enormously beneficial. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Hopefully, the elderly concerned will cooperate and be grateful, too. We'll see what happens...