Physical Therapy and Management of Osteoarthritis
by Taylor Rock, DPT
AzOPT Goodyear Doctor of Physical Therapy
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and affects roughly 32.5 million adults in the US. It is commonly referred to the “wear and tear” arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). OA occurs when cartilage within the joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change.
The knees, hips and hands are the most affected joints, but OA can occur in any joints of the body. Common symptoms and complaints include achy pain, joint stiffness, limited range of motion and swelling. For some, OA can really limit function and the person’s ability to participate in the activities they enjoy.
So, how can physical therapy help manage symptoms and maintain the quality of life for each individual?
Exercise therapy is one of the most important non-surgical treatments for addressing OA not only because of the effects it can have on the joint but also with a person’s overall health and well-being. A physical therapist will complete an evaluation of each patient and construct an individualized plan of care, specific to each patient’s limitations and goals. Each treatment plan typically consists of hands-on manual therapy and therapeutic exercise (stretching and strengthening) to help provide support to the joint, improve physical function, and reduce patient reported pain. Exercise therapy can provide the same pain relief as pharmacological interventions with less severe side effects. If an individual and physician ultimately decide that a total replacement is necessary, participating in a supervised exercise therapy program can help lead to better postoperative recovery.
Physical therapists will also provide patient education that informs that patient on the potential causes, risk factors and disease mechanisms that can lead to OA. Education also discusses that importance of remaining physically active and how the individual can modify or alter current physical activities to manage disease and maintain or improve quality of life.
Along with therapeutic exercise or exercise therapy, a physical therapist will likely utilize other treatment interventions to get the most out of the treatment session. PT’s can utilize manual therapy, soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilizations with pain control, tissue relaxation and patient function. A physical therapist may also decide to utilize myofascial cupping, dry needling and other modalities and interventions based on each individual patient that can help with blood flow, pain control and muscle relaxation.
If you are suffering with pain, loss of function and decreased quality of life due to OA or are looking for ways to manage symptoms, call AzOPT and schedule an evaluation with one of our licensed physical therapists to begin the process of feeling better and functioning better for the activities you need and love.