How is arthritis treated?

"Arthritis" is inflammation of the joints. The condition may cause pain, swelling, and limited motion of one or many joints in the body. More than 100 different illnesses can cause arthritis.

Treatment begins after diagnosis by a doctor, who might prescribe medicine to reduce inflammation, pain, swelling, and loss of motion. As part of a comprehensive plan for arthritis treatment, your doctor might also prescribe occupational and physical therapy, which can provide additional help in your recovery.

How can occupational therapists help you treat your arthritis?

Occupational therapists can teach you how to reduce strain on your joints during daily activities. They can show you how to modify your home and workplace environments to reduce motions that might aggravate arthritis. Occupational therapists can also provide splints for your hands or wrists, and recommend assistive devices to help you drive, bathe, dress, keep house, and do other tasks.

How can physical therapists help you treat your arthritis?

Physical therapists can teach you:

  • Exercises designed to preserve the mobility, strength, and use of your joints
  • Proper body mechanics to move from one position to another
  • Proper mechanics during the performance of your daily activities
  • Correct posture to protect the integrity of the joints
  • How to use walking aids such as crutches, a walker, or cane when needed

For patients with mild to moderate knee or ankle arthritis, your therapist may recommend a functional knee or ankle brace that will support your joint, allowing more freedom with daily activities such as walking, hiking, and golfing.

What are the goals of arthritis treatment using physical therapy?

Your physical therapist will tailor a program to your specific needs, whether your arthritic problems are widespread or confined to one joint or body area.

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Prevent loss of use of the joints
  • Restore abilities that may have been lost
  • Help you adapt to new activity levels
  • Maintain your fitness
  • Maintain your ability to take part in the activities you choose with minimal help from others

Therapy should be started early in order to reduce painful symptoms of inflammation, prevent deformity and permanent joint stiffness, and maintain strength in the surrounding muscles. When pain and swelling are better controlled, treatment plans may include exercises to increase range of motion, and to improve muscle strength and endurance.