In the past, people with arthritis were advised to limit their physical activity and get as much rest as possible so as not to put any unnecessary stress on their joints. But years of research have shown that all this does is leave you less fit.

Arthritis may limit your activity to some degree, but there's no reason for you to limit yourself any further. In fact, too much activity can cause joint pain, but so can too little.

The benefit of physical therapy lies not only in the relief of arthritis symptoms, but in the individual attention you get that focuses on your specific needs. Your physical therapist will work with you to create an individualize exercise and activity plan tailored to help you meet your specific goals.

In physical therapy, you will learn how to exercise properly and how to change the ways you perform everyday tasks, such as opening a door or getting out of bed, in order to protect your joints. You may learn how to keep doing the things you did before you were diagnosed, like play golf or cook or work in your garden, without causing yourself pain or further damage to your joints.

What else can physical therapy do? Here are six benefits:

1. Reduce Pain

Heat increases the flow of blood to your joints and promotes flexibility. Your physical therapist can show you how and when to apply heat to your joints to relieve pain and make it easier to perform everyday tasks.

2. Reduce Swelling

During flare-ups of arthritis, cold packs can help reduce swelling. The age-old advice to apply a bag of frozen peas to a swollen joint still holds true when you are treating swelling at home. That's because the package easily conforms to the shape of the swollen joint. Your physical therapist may suggest alternating hot and cold packs to reduce swelling.

3. Decrease Stiffness

Stiffness occurs when a joint is held in one position for too long a time. Physical therapy helps you practice keeping your joints in motion and alternating rest with movement.  In addition to walking or stretching major joints, physical therapy to decrease stiffness extends to such movements as carrying, pinching, and grasping, all of which affect the joints in your fingers, hands, elbows, and elsewhere.

4. Increase Range of Motion

Specific exercises are designed help increase the production of the synovial fluid that provides lubrication for your joints, allowing greater range of motion. Your physical therapist can show you how to exercise in ways that increase your range of motion without further damaging your joints.

5. Reduce Joint Stress

One major goal of physical therapy is to show you how to move through the day doing normal activities without putting unnecessary stress on your joints. To accomplish this, you must learn how to better distribute your weight and the force you use to perform such tasks as picking up bags and packages, opening doors or holding them open, and getting up from a seated position. For instance, your physical therapist may suggest you use your shoulder and side to open a door or hold it open, rather than using an extended arm. Another modification might be to use both arms when you push yourself up from a chair.

6. Conserve Energy

Physical therapy teaches you to use the least amount of energy required to perform a task by placing items within easy reach so that you do less reaching and bending, and using a lighter touch to put less stress on your joints.




Hospital for Special Surgery: Elbow Arthritis and Rehabilitation with Physical Therapy

Minor, Marian A. "Physical Activity and Management of Arthritis." Annals of Behavioral Medicine 1991 13(3); 117-123