What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and swelling of the joints and bones. Physical therapy is a very effective method to help reduce symptoms that are associated with Arthritis.
Joints are where two bones meet allowing efficient movement and flexibility. The two bones of a joint are covered with a layer of hard, smooth tissue called cartilage which acts as protection during movements. Joints also consist of thick fluid that lubricates the ends of the bones to encourage smoother movements. This is called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is produced by the synovia which surrounds the joint and provides joint stability. Surrounding muscles and ligaments provide movements and are also responsible for support and stability.
There are two main forms of arthritis that result in arthritis pain;
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs after ongoing wear and tear of the affected joints caused by daily activities. In people experiencing OA, the joint does not repair properly which causes problems to occur. This faulty repair process causes the cartilage that protects the bones to become damaged and gradually waste away causing the bones to rub together during movement. The bone surfaces may then develop bony growths called osteophytes. OA can result in significant pain and inflammation which varies largely in severity and characteristics between sufferers. OA most commonly affects the hands, spine, knees and hips. Causes of OA include age, genetics, obesity, previous joint injury or deformity and overuse of a joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a rare but more severe form of arthritis. RA is believed to be an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack and destroy the body’s own tissues, in this case, the joints. RA results in reduced movement in the joints and the breakdown of cartilage and bone tissue. RA can cause severe pain and inflammation as well as significant damage and deformities in the affected joints. The most commonly affected joints are the ankles, feet, fingers, wrists and thumbs. The cause of RA is generally unknown but is thought to be partly due to genetics or certain factors that may trigger the immune system to attack the tissues of the joints.
Main symptoms of arthritis
- Long term (chronic) pain that varies significantly in frequency, severity and characteristics
- Joint stiffness
- Joint inflammation that can vary in severity and joints present a lot larger than normal
- Joint deformity especially in rheumatoid arthritis
- Reduction of movements in the affected joint as a result of chronic pain, swelling and stiffness
- Poor mobility if lower limb joints are affected
- Poor function
- One joint or several joints may be affected
- Small lumps can develop in affected joints but are usually harmless
- Inflammation of surrounding soft tissues such as the tendons
- Anemia, fever, fatigue and weight loss may occur in some cases.
- Muscle aches and pains
There is no cure but there are a number of treatment options to reduce the long term pain and other symptoms that are associated with arthritis. Treatment may include analgesics (painkillers), disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), regular exercise and physical therapy.
Treatments for arthritis pain
Physical rehabilitation is an effective method of treatment that will help relieve the chronic pain that you are experiencing as a result of arthritis. The Stroke & Diabetes Center has physical medicine & rehabilitation specialists who will aim to reduce your arthritis pain through a variety of treatment strategies. The main goals of your therapy will be to reduce your pain, help with any stiffness of the affected joints, improve movement and maintain function. Your specialist team will provide you with a thorough assessment and comprehensive treatment plan that is specific to you. Your treatment will include:
- Pain control modalities
- Heat or cryotherapy (ice)
- Electrical stimulation:e.g. TENS
- Basic cardiovascular exercises to help improve overall fitness and health levels
- Strengthening exercises to reduce muscular deconditioning
- Education on how to make lifestyle changes that may affect your condition
- Functional activities
- Postural advice for arthritic conditions that affect the spine
- Your personalized treatment program will help reduce some of the problems you are experiencing as a result of arthritis pain. The program will help maintain or improve your current mobility levels as well as prevent future problems from occurring. The success of your treatment will highly depend on your commitment and adherence to your personal program.