If you are suffering from arthritis pain, you are not alone. Arthritis is the leading cause of pain and disability worldwide.
The good news is physical therapy can help relieve pain and discomfort caused by the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints. Let’s start with the basics.
Arthritis comes in different forms, but the most common type that individuals will face is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis pain is caused by:
- Inflammation, that causes redness and swelling in joints.
- Damage to the joints and loss of function from use.
- Muscle strain from painful movements.
There are many things that you can do to help control your arthritis pain if you are experiencing symptoms. Some common remedies include an:
- Increase physical and social activities that do not put stress on your joints.
- Limit medications that manage pain.
- Change habits that may be causing your pain.
Relieve Stiffness with Exercise Programs
An exercise program designed by a physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) will focus on ways to relive stiffness and keep you moving.
Physical therapists are movement specialists trained to help restore normal and pain-free activity. They use their training to identify weaknesses in the joints and address those weak areas to prevent the recurrence of symptoms. Licensed therapists can help manage arthritis by restoring joint range of motion, improving joint and muscular strength, and managing pain with manual therapy techniques and various modalities.
- Range of Motion (ROM): Loss of joint range of motion is a common consequence of arthritis. Arthritis typical involves narrowing of a joint space, “bone-on-bone”, which leads to pain with movement. Muscular tightness can also lead to aching pain at rest. The less a joint is used, the tighter the surrounding tissue can become. Your therapist can evaluate joint ROM and prescribe stretches to reduce joint compression and improve joint mobility with reduced pain.
- Strengthening: Many individuals with arthritis have weakness in the muscles surrounding the arthritic joints. Weakness in the structures supporting the joint can lead to joint instability and pain with movement. Weakness in the surrounding structures also leads to difficulty performing necessary activities, such as stair climbing and squatting down. PTs can prescribe appropriate strengthening exercises to improve strength, improve the ability to perform activities of daily living, and to reduce pain.
- Pain management: Pain, swelling, and inflammation often lead to decreased quality of life for individuals with arthritic issues. Using a variety of tools, PTs are experienced in helping patients manage pain and are trained in the use of modalities, such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound, to reduce pain and improve joint function. Extensive training in manual therapy means that PTs have the skills and knowledge to perform joint mobilization, passive stretching, and massage techniques that seek to improve joint function and reduce pain.
Additionally, many OTs are trained specifically in the treatment of hand pain and disability. So if you are suffering from arthritis in your hands, they can help get you back to your activities with less restrictions and, most importantly, less pain.
Interventions for Pain Management
Interventions like over the counter or prescription medications and injections may help to relieve the inflammation, and associated pain. However, such techniques do not address any structural issues that may be causing the pain, inflammation, or loss of function in the joint. There are alternatives like hot and cold packs in addition to PT and OT that can help. These interventions are most effective when used in combination with a dedicated rehabilitation program.
Soothing, Safe Relief with Hot or Cold Packs
Alternatively, you can try using heat and cold treatment which can help ease stiffness and pain caused by arthritis. Cold is especially useful during a flare up while heat can often ease muscle tension. Below we’ve listed some recommended do’s and don’ts in taking this approach.
- Use heat or cold for only 15-20 minutes at a time. Your skin should return to its normal temperature before using another application.
- Always put a towel between your skin and both cold or hot treatment.
- Always follow the advice of your physical therapist or doctor when using these treatment methods.
- Check your skin before and after using heat or cold techniques.
- Do not use either heat or cold if you have open cuts or sores.
- Do not use cold packs if you have poor circulation, vasculitis or decreased sensation.
- If you notice skin changes, your heat is too hot or cold is too cold. It is normal for your skin to appear pink after using a hot or cold pack BUT if it appears dark red or spotty red and white there may be some skin damage. Blisters also appear if the pack was too hot or too cold. Pay close attention to irregularities and consult a licensed health professional if you begin to notice changes during or following application.
- Do not use skin treatments while you are also using cold or hot packs.
- Do not make your bath or shower water too hot. This may cause dizziness or fatigue, and can lead to other issues including fainting.
Take Your Life Back without Pain or Limits of Arthritis
Bottom line is that arthritis does not -and should not- have to keep you from living your life without limits. Enjoy the activities you love by making simple changes to your lifestyle. And be sure to contact a CORA clinic nearest you today to schedule an appointment! Or, request a 10-15 minute complimentary screening at one of more than 200 convenient locations. Our physical therapists are passionate about helping you get back to living your life free of pain.
Ask us about Therapy Essentials when you call or by emailing [email protected]. Professional-grade therapy products now delivered right to your door. Get 15% off during the month of August on our Soothing Relief – Hot and Cold kit which features a moist heating pad, heavy-duty reusable cold pack and Point Relief ColdSpot gel, roll-on and spray applicators. Plus, enjoy free shipping on orders of $50 or more.