Arthritis Rehabilitation: Can Physiatry and Physical Therapy Help Arthritis?

March 27, 2023

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What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition of the joints caused by inflammation or mechanical degeneration over time. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness and a limited range of motion. The joints most often affected by arthritis are the hands, neck, feet, hips, knees and spine.

It’s a common misconception that only people of advanced age develop arthritis. In fact, the majority of people with an arthritis diagnosis are of working age. While 50% of people over age 65 report being diagnosed with arthritis, 31% of those 45-65 received a diagnosis and 7% between 18-45. Even children can develop arthritis. [1] Arthritis can also be the result of an injury, which is known as post-traumatic arthritis.

There are multiple forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, ankylosing spondylitis and the most common form: osteoarthritis. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage between the joints deteriorates, which causes more pain as the disease progresses. There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment like physical therapy can help increase flexibility and mobility and decrease pain and swelling in the joints.

How movement helps ease arthritis pain

If you have arthritis, you probably avoid certain tasks that cause pain. Or they may be difficult because your joints are so stiff. But not moving your joints only causes the arthritis pain and stiffness to worsen over the long term.

When joints move with physical activity, they produce a lubricating substance called synovial fluid. This fluid acts like oil in a car engine, allowing your joints to move smoothly.

Physical activity also gets your heart pumping, which increases blood flow. When circulation increases in the joints, more oxygen and nutrients feed the membranes that support them. Joint-friendly movement and exercise also activate genes responsible for rebuilding cartilage, breaking down and removing damaged cells, and strengthening muscles and tendons that support the joints.[2]

How physiatrists and physical therapists treat arthritis

A physiatrist guiding your arthritis treatment is like having a primary care physician who specializes in musculoskeletal conditions. In partnership with a physical therapist, they will design a treatment plan whose goal is to decrease your joint pain, improve mobility and range of motion in the affected joints, and improve your balance and stability. It may also help to delay or avoid surgery.

Your treatment plan is based on which joints are affected, the type of arthritis diagnosed by the physiatrist, your physical condition and your individual needs. For instance, a middle-aged patient with rheumatoid arthritis will receive a different plan than a 67-year-old suffering from osteoarthritis.

Your treatment plan will also consider:

  • Your age
  • Your occupation
  • Any injuries you have
  • If you had surgery
  • Comorbidities
  • Your physical capabilities
  • Your current range of motion

Your physical therapist will use a variety of techniques including:

  • Targeted exercises and stretches
  • Manual therapy (hands-on manipulation of the affected joints)
  • Biomechanical analysis (watching how your joints move)

If you’re experiencing pain and decreased flexibility due to arthritis, schedule an appointment with one of our arthritis specialists for an evaluation. Call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422).


[1] Centers For Disease Control: Four Things You Should Know About Arthritis

[2] Arthritis Foundation: How Exercise Helps Your Joints