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Sheltering Arms Blog

Reducing the ‘Ouch!’ of Arthritis

Posted on: July 18, 2016 by Sheltering Arms

By Jody Schorr, PT, MSPT

When you hear the word arthritis, many things may come to mind – joint pain, limited mobility, stiffness, and disability perhaps. Many people either have some form of arthritis or know someone who does. What exactly is it and how does it affect the body?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a large umbrella name that includes many specific types, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis to name a few. Arthritis can affect the peripheral joints such as the shoulders, elbows, hands, feet, knees, and spine. Some forms of spinal DJD, or degenerative arthritis, include spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) and degenerative disc disease, where cushioning discs between vertebrae in the spine become dry and thin, causing pain with everyday activities.

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects approximately 20 million Americans. It primarily impacts weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, and spine, but can appear in any joint and often affects the hands. Aging plays a role in developing OA, which progresses over time and has no cure.

In addition to aging, risks for developing OA include obesity, joint trauma, overuse, abnormal alignment, and a family history of arthritis.

Some common treatments include analgesic medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, and hyaluronic acid injections. For many people, joint replacement surgery is necessary to alleviate pain and improve mobility.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects approximately 1.5 million Americans. RA is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own tissues, particularly the synovium or lining of the joint surfaces. It causes inflammation, pain, and joint and bone destruction. There can be periods of remission and acute flares of pain and inflammation. RA is a systemic disease meaning it not only affects joints and bones, but also can impact organs including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Some treatments include disease-modifying medications and anti-inflammatories.

Beyond Medications

When joints are painful, exercise and movement may not sound like logical treatments. In reality, they are key to managing many types of arthritis. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can help with specific exercises to improve muscle strength and mobility. Treatment goals include reducing joint strain, improving posture and body mechanics, increasing range of motion, building strength, modifying home/work environments to improve function, and increasing lubrication of joints via movement.

Here are some specific ways therapy/rehab can help:

  • Strengthening the muscles that support joints alleviates stress on the joints that are already compromised due to arthritis.
  • Stretching tight muscles can facilitate improved range of motion and decrease stress on joints.
  • Splints can support unstable joints.
  • Assistive devices, such as canes and walkers, can take some of the load off joints. This helps to decrease pain with mobility and allow for improved safety and activity levels.
  • Pain management may include medical psychology services, crucial when dealing with a chronic disease, as well as injections to decrease inflammation, particularly with spinal degenerative conditions.

There are other adjunctive treatments that can improve quality of life, including massage, hot/cold therapies, water therapy, stress management, and support groups. Weight loss may be indicated to decrease stress on weight bearing joints and staying active can help with this as well!

Ask your doctor if therapy can help you manage the symptoms of arthritis, and request an appointment.

Sheltering Arms also offers aquatic and land-based exercise classes that are perfect for helping you lead an active, healthy lifestyle.