Joints take a lot of stress from everyday use, even when they’re healthy; for people with arthritis or a recent joint replacement surgery, joint pain can have a debilitating effect on daily life. Medication, both prescription and over the counter, is often helpful and necessary, but other measures such as physical therapy can help fill the gaps.
Arthritis causes painful inflammation of the joints, leading to swelling and limiting motion. Physical therapy can help minimize these symptoms by teaching patients exercises meant to strengthen joints and restore – and preserve – their mobility and flexibility. The pain and stiffness of arthritis often causes people to avoid movement as they try not to aggravate their pain, but this actually causes joints to become more stiff, which in turn makes pain worse. Learning a better way to move makes daily life easier. The same goes for those who are recovering from a joint injury, such as surgery or a fall.
In many cases, physical therapy begins with the basics, one that many people overlook: posture. The way we stand and sit can have a more substantial effect on our joints than you may think, so improvements to posture can remove some of the strain we unknowingly place on them. Over time, these changes alleviate discomfort.
The joint itself isn’t the only target of this kind of physical therapy – it’s also designed to strengthen and improve musculature. The muscles that surround joints offer stability, support, and flexibility to the area; when they’re not in good shape, they can’t adequately do this, which puts more stress on the joint. Stronger muscles lead to a stronger joint overall, and physical therapy teaches the best way to strengthen safely.
Arthritis patients, and those recovering from a joint replacement, may need to re-learn common movements in a way that has been modified to accommodate their condition – weight has to be distributed differently, and a new attention to body placement is required. For people who need an aid such as crutches or a walker, physical therapy teaches the best way to use them; it also provides pain management information such as the use of heating or cooling pads.