Using Physiotherapy for Osteoarthritis Treatment and Managing Joint Pain
Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment option for osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common natural occurring degenerative conditions of the body’s joints. People of all ages are affected however, it is more prevalent as we age.
It is characterised by a loss of cartilage around a joint, which helps to provide smooth gliding when the joint is in motion. If the cartilage begins to break down, this results in pain and swelling as the joint loses its ability to work in a smooth fluid process.
Research indicates that 90% of people will have some type of osteoarthritic changes occurring in their weight bearing joints by the time they are 40 years of age. Not all of these conditions will have symptoms.
However, people suffering from osteoarthritic conditions present regularly to their doctors or physiotherapists with joint pain and inflammation. These damaged joints can be irritated at work, during sport or in a home related trauma. Different joints are affected depending on posture, injury, past history and a range of hereditary factors.
While osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, major weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips, lumbar spine and ankles are more commonly affected than others. Pain is the most common symptom.
How Does Physiotherapy Help Osteoarthritis?
Physiotherapy treatment provides conservative but effective results with even severely damaged arthritic joints. A thorough assessment is vital for treatment prescription.
Treatment may comprise of:
- Joint mobilisation
- Exercise prescription to develop an individualised plan of exercises to improve flexibility, strength, coordination and balance to achieve optimal physical function.
- Electrotherapy modalities
- Dry needling
- Supports/aids and education. These modalities:
- Aim to reduce pain
- Improve range of movement and strengthen key muscle groups.
- Teach you proper posture and body mechanics
- Show you how to properly use assistive devices such as walkers and canes.
- Recommend different treatment options, such as braces and splints to support joints, shoe inserts to relieve stress on the lower extremities, and hot and cold therapy to ease joint pain and stiffness.
- Suggest modifications to your environment, such as ergonomic chairs or a cushioned mat in your kitchen, to relieve pain and improve function.
- A home exercise program if done regularly will assist in reducing additional osteoarthritic flare-ups. Unfortunately long term compliance with this management plan does not always occur. Many patients will discontinue exercising once pain has subsided and function semi-restored until the next flare-up of pain. This can create further joint damage and deterioration by the repetitive cycle of exercise and inactivity. A maintenance physiotherapy visit every 4-6 weeks is the most effective method of maintaining joint range and strength. It will also allow the physiotherapist to review, modify and reinforce the prescribed exercises. Research indicates that while maintenance is ongoing, the overall medical costs are reduced for the patient due to the control of acute flare-ups.
Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out for Help Managing Osteoarthritis!
The best people to understand the challenges you face are others with arthritis. They can commiserate with your difficulties, share encouragement, and give you tips that come from their own experiences. Sometimes, just sharing that you’ve had a hard day and having someone respond, “I understand completely” can help you feel better.
As for friends and family, be honest with them—let them know how you may need extra help. Tell your kids you need them to play quietly while you nap or tell your spouse that he or she is in charge of dinner. Remember that your loved ones want to support you, they just may not know how.
Stretch of the Month – The Forward Fold Stretch
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly bend forward from the waist. Keep your legs as straight as possible and don’t bounce.
Don’t worry if you can’t reach the floor; you can even reach for a chair cushion to start if that’s what your flexibility allows.
Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds three times.
You can still go on living your daily live even with osteoarthritis. Joint pain and osteoarthritic flare-ups can be managed with the help of an effective physiotherapy treatment designed for combating your osteoarthritis and joint degeneration.
If you’d like to speak with one of our expert physiotherapists in Brisbane about how you can best manage osteoarthritis, call us on (07) 3278 1186 or book an initial consultation online.