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Physical and Occupational Therapy for Arthritis

Arthritis treatment may include physical therapy and/or occupational therapy.

People with arthritis often have stiff joints -- largely because they avoid movements that can increase pain. By not moving arthritic joints, however, the stiffness and pain only get worse. Therefore, people with arthritis often benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you how to work out stiffness without further damaging your joint. Physical therapy also is useful after an injury, such as from a fall, and after joint surgery, especially for artificial joint replacement.

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Occupational therapy can teach you how to reduce strain on your joints during daily activities. Occupational therapists can show you how to modify your home and workplace environments to reduce motions that may aggravate arthritis. They also may provide splints for your hands or wrists, and recommend assistive devices to aid in tasks such as driving, bathing, dressing, housekeeping, and certain work activities.

What Is the Goal of Physical Therapy?

The goal of physical therapy is to get a person back to the point where he or she can perform normal, everyday activities without difficulty.

Preserving good range of motion is key to maintain the ability to perform daily activities. Therefore, increasing the range of motion of a joint is the primary focus of physical therapy. Building strength in the involved muscles surrounding the joint also is extremely important, since stronger muscles can better stabilize a weakened joint.

Physical therapists provide exercises designed to preserve the strength and use of your joints. They can show you the best way to move from one position to another and can also teach you how to use walking aids such as crutches, a walker or a cane, if necessary.

What Are Some Benefits of Occupational and Physical Therapy?

If you have arthritis, there are many benefits to participating in a physical and occupational therapy program, including:

  • You gain education about your type of arthritis, so that you can be well informed.
  • You gain foot-care advice, including information on well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbing outer soles and sculptured (orthotic) insoles molded exactly to the contour of each foot.
  • You will learn therapeutic methods to relieve discomfort and improve performance through various physical techniques and activity modifications.

 

What Techniques Will I Learn?

You'll learn several techniques, including:

  • Rest. Bed rest helps reduce both joint inflammation and pain, and is especially useful when multiple joints are affected and fatigue is a major problem. Individual joint rest is most helpful when arthritis involves one or only a few joints. Custom splints can be made to rest and support inflamed joints and a soft collar can support the neck while you are sitting or standing.
  • Thermal modalities. Applying ice packs or heating pads, as well as deep heat provided by ultrasound and hot packs, can help relieve local pain. Heat also relaxes muscle spasm around inflamed joints. Heating joints and muscles with a warm bath or shower before exercising may help you exercise more easily.
  • Exercise. Exercise is an important part of arthritis treatment that is most effective when done properly every day. Your doctor and therapist will prescribe a program for you that may vary as your needs change.

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