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!