How can physiotherapy help osteoarthritis
Updated: Mar 17
Read on and see how a physiotherapist can help with osteoarthritis
Around ten percent of Australians suffer from osteoarthritis. It is a chronic disorder that affects joints in the body, mostly in the hips, knees, ankles, spine, and hands. More than any other condition, osteoarthritis is the condition that causes Australians to have hip and knee replacement surgery.
There are things that a physiotherapist can do to relieve pain in the joints and curb the onset of osteoarthritis. A physio can help with osteoarthritis by doing things like working on joint range of motion, strengthening muscles, adjusting posture, and improving balance.
Read on to learn more about what osteoarthritis is, how it impacts the body, and how physiotherapy does help osteoarthritis.
If you have osteoarthritis or are impacted by its symptoms, consider talking to a physiotherapist. At Align Health Collective, our qualified team can help to tailor a plan to reduce pain and increase mobility.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis in which the cushioning protective cartridge on the end of bones starts wearing down. It disproportionately affects women and older people: ⅔ of people with osteoarthritis are female, and joint symptoms are reported by 30% of people over the age of 65. Symptoms can include:
Stiffness: Joints can feel stiff and immobile. Flexibility is reduced, and joints might not be able to move freely. This tends to be most noticeable after a period of inactivity, like sleep.
Tenderness and pain: Osteoarthritis discomfort can take several forms. During movement, joints can hurt. Applying light pressure to or near the joint might feel tender. There can be a grating sensation when the joint is used.
Bone spurs and swelling: Around the affected joint you may notice either soft tissue inflammation, or bone spurs (hard lumps of bone).
How can physiotherapy help with osteoarthritis?
Physiotherapy is a non-invasive and effective treatment option for managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. It involves the use of physical methods such as exercise, manual therapy, hydrotherapy, and electrotherapy to improve physical function, reduce pain, and increase mobility.
Physiotherapy treatment options
Manual therapy is a hands-on technique used by physiotherapists to manipulate the joints and soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, to improve joint range of motion and reduce pain. This may include joint mobilization or manipulation, soft tissue massage, or stretching exercises.
Physiotherapists can develop exercise programs tailored to an individual's needs and limitations. These programs may include exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and balance, which can help to reduce pain and improve physical function in the affected joint.
Hydrotherapy involves exercising in a pool of warm water, which can help to reduce joint pain and stiffness while increasing range of motion. It may include exercises such as swimming, walking, or resistance training.
Electrotherapy involves the use of electrical currents to manage pain and inflammation in the affected joint. This may include techniques such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or ultrasound therapy.
Home Exercise Programs
A physiotherapist may also develop a home exercise program for individuals to maintain progress outside of physiotherapy services. This may include exercises to improve joint range of motion, strength, and flexibility.
Benefits of physiotherapy for osteoarthritis
Improved Joint Range of Motion and Physical Function
Through a combination of manual therapy and exercise programs, physiotherapy can help to improve joint range of motion, reduce stiffness, and increase physical function in the affected joint.
Reduced Pain and Stiffness in Affected Joints
Hydrotherapy and electrotherapy techniques can help to reduce pain and stiffness in affected joints, making it easier to perform daily activities.
Minimized Risk of Further Joint Damage and Complications
By improving joint range of motion and strengthening supporting muscles, physiotherapy can help to minimize the risk of further joint damage and complications associated with osteoarthritis.
Improved Muscle Strength and Balance to Support Affected Joints
Exercise programs can improve muscle strength and balance, which can help to support the affected joint and reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
Increased Knowledge and Management of Osteoarthritis Symptoms
Physiotherapy can provide individuals with increased knowledge and management strategies for their osteoarthritis symptoms, including pain management techniques and exercise programs.
Working with a physiotherapist for osteoarthritis management
When working with a physiotherapist for osteoarthritis management, it is important to choose a professional who is experienced in working with this condition. Physiotherapists will typically begin with an assessment of the affected joint, taking into account an individual's medical history, lifestyle, and overall physical function.
Based on the assessment, the physiotherapist will develop a personalized treatment plan that may include a combination of manual therapy, exercise programs, hydrotherapy, and electrotherapy techniques. The treatment plan will be tailored to an individual's needs and limitations and will aim to improve joint range of motion, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve physical function.
In addition to in-office treatments, a physiotherapist may also develop a home exercise program for individuals to maintain progress outside of physiotherapy services. It is important to follow the exercise program as directed and to communicate any changes in symptoms or limitations with the physiotherapist.
When working with a physiotherapist, it is important to be patient and committed to the treatment plan. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition, and it may take time to see improvement in symptoms. However, by working with a physiotherapist and following a personalized treatment plan, individuals can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Why does exercise help osteoarthritis?
It can feel counterintuitive but exercising through the joint pain of osteoarthritis can be one of the most beneficial options. There are many outcomes from exercise that can be beneficial to managing osteoarthritis. For example:
Weight loss: People with osteoarthritis who are overweight or obese can benefit enormously from weight loss. Although weight loss won’t result in the regeneration of cartilage, it will reduce the stress on joints like the hip and knee, and this can ease pain and stiffness.
Strengthening muscle: Stronger muscles are better at supporting joints, which is especially important in a person with osteoarthritis. There is evidence to indicate that strength training can have a big impact on pain reduction for those with osteoarthritis.
A physiotherapist, who understands osteoarthritis and any other conditions you might have, will be able to draw up an exercise plan to help ameliorate the suffering caused by the condition.
Can a physiotherapist help with arthritis?
Often, a physiotherapist can help with arthritis. Initially, this might take the form of a diagnosis. From there, a physio can design exercises and stretches to make arthritis more manageable. A physio can do this for people with osteoarthritis, and with other forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Additionally, a physiotherapist can help people with arthritis who are suffering from other, non-arthritis-related injuries. Certain exercises to treat things like back pain and tennis elbow might not be appropriate for people with certain kinds of arthritis. However, a qualified physiotherapist will be able to take a holistic approach and design the best possible course of treatment and exercises.
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, other kinds of arthritis, or symptoms associated with arthritis, consider making an appointment with a physiotherapist. Our team at Align Health Collective can help with expert advice and treatment to give you the best possible quality of life.