Years ago, arthritis was considered an inherent part of the aging process and a signal to a patient that it’s time to slow down, but not so anymore. Recent research and clinical findings show that there is much more to life for arthritis patients than the traditional recommendation of bed rest and drug therapy.
What Is Arthritis?
The word “arthritis” means “joint inflammation” and is often used in reference to rheumatic diseases. Rheumatic diseases include more than 100 conditions, including gout, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and many more. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a rheumatic disease, affecting about 1 percent of the population. Although rheumatoid arthritis often begins in middle age and is more frequent in the older generation, it can also start at a young age.
Arthritis may be divided into two types – degenerative and inflammatory. DEGENERATIVE or OSTEOARTHRITIS is the commonest form, sometimes called ‘wear and tear’ and is usually localised to a specific site such as the hips, knees or spine. Its classic features of pain, stiffness and restricted mobility may often be eased and improved with skilled physiotherapy treatment.
Physiotherapy for people with arthritis is aimed at:
- Reduction of pain and swelling
- Promote range of joint movement
- Improve mobility
- Strengthen muscle power
- Assist in rehabilitation after surgery such as hip replacement
- Educate on how you can improve your quality of life through exercise
Treatments may include:
Manual therapy Mobilisation and manipulation techniques are passive movements applied to a joint or soft tissue by the physio in a specific manner to help restore full movement to a joint that is painful and restricted. Manual therapy is often useful in the chronic forms of arthritis and is often successful when other methods such as heat and exercises have given little or no relief.
Electrical treatments (electrotherapy) These treatments produce electrical stimulation of your body tissues. They may be extremely useful in the treatment of both acute and chronic arthritis, where pain, swelling and muscle spasms are present.
Exercise A balanced programme of rest and exercise, and careful attention to joint posture is an important part of pain management, joint protection and maintenance of your joint function. Controlled exercise helps lessen pain and stiffness and improves the strength of muscles and ligaments, so helping to stabilise joints. This is essential in all aspects of self-care and particularly important before and after joint surgery.
Thermal (heat treatments) The application can be directed towards superficial or deeper parts of the body. The most common types of treatment used are infra-red radiation, hot packs for superficial treatments, and microwave diathermy and shortwave diathermy for deep heating treatment.
Self-Management Individuals who participate in self-management programs notice decrease in joint pain and frequency of arthritis-related doctors’ visits, increases in physical activity and overall improvement in quality of life.
Hydrotherapy is a very useful means of exercising arthritic joints using the buoyancy of water to assist or resist movement. The warmth of the water increases the circulation and helps reduce muscle spasms, producing more effective movement.