Physical therapy and occupational therapy help maintain joint mobility and range of motion. How much therapy you need, and what kind of therapy will depend on many factors, such as the severity and type of arthritis you have, your age, and your general state of health. This has to be decided by you with your physician and physical or occupational therapist.
People with arthritis will often avoid moving the affected joint because of the pain. A physical therapist can help the patient work out the joint stiffness without damaging it. In order to perform your daily activity the physical therapist will help you achieve a good range of motion. This may involve building strength in the muscles that surround the affected joint – stronger muscles help stabilize a weakened joint. You will also be taught the best way to move from one position to another, as well as learning how to use such walking aids as crutches, a cane or a walker, if you need one.
Physical therapy, apart from significantly improving function and reducing pain, has been shown to delay the need for surgical intervention in advanced cases8.
Occupational therapy can teach you how to reduce the strain on your joints as you go about your daily activities. The occupational therapist can help you modify your home and workplace so that your movements do not aggravate your arthritis. You may need a splint for your hands or wrists, as well as aids for dressing, housekeeping, work activities, driving and washing/bathing yourself.
An occupational and/or physical therapist can make an enormous difference to your quality of life if you suffer from arthritis. He/she will help you learn more about your arthritis, devise a dietary plan if you are overweight and over-stressing the joints as a result, help you make better decisions about what shoes to buy if that part of the body is affected.
You will learn how and when to rest – rest is crucial for treating inflammation and pain, especially when many joints are affected and you feel tired. Resting individual joints is very helpful too – custom splints can be made to rest and support affected joints.
Local pain can be relieved with ice packs or heating pads. Ultrasound and hot packs provide deep heat which relieves localized pain and relaxes muscle spasm around the affected joint. You may find that a warm bath/shower makes it easier for you to exercise afterwards.
Physical activity can improve arthritis symptoms – doctors warn that inactivity could harm the health of most patients with arthritis or some kind of rheumatic disease. Inactivity raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2. Muscles become weaker with no exercise, joints become stiffer, and the patient’s tolerance for pain decreases. Balance problems may also become worse.
Arthritis patients who are physically active generally enjoy better health, are happier, live longer, experience improvements in pain, sleep, day-to-day functioning and general energy levels.