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Physiotherapy: Helping Those Suffering with Arthritis

Arthritis is a joint disorder which features inflammation, pain and stiffness. There is also often a loss of movement with arthritis as the joints are to inflamed to move. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The common forms of arthritis are: osteoarthritis that results from breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone usually affecting the hands and weight-bearing joints like the back, feet, knees and hips, rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune disease affecting all joints in the body and gout which is caused by excessive uric acid in the bloodstream usually affecting the big toe but can also affect ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers.

Arthritis can affect anyone including the elderly, children and even people in the prime of their life.Causes of arthritis can be from genetics, weight, previous injury or fracture, infection or from an overactive immune system. Whether symptoms are mild or severe, arthritis pain relief requires a plan to treat the following symptoms of joint swelling, joint stiffness or reduced movement, joint pain and aching, muscle weakness and reduced function.

There is no cure for arthritis but that does not mean that you can’t manage or slow down the progression of the disease. Early diagnosis can prevent disability and irreversible damage. Exercise routines, medications, rest and physiotherapy may be recommended by your doctor. Physiotherapy is an important part of treatment for most people with arthritis. It will help to keep your joints and muscles moving and can help reduce risk, relieve pain and improve function. A physiotherapist can help you to understand what happens to your joints and muscles when you have arthritis. Understanding it will help you to manage its effects.

A physiotherapy will work with you to develop an exercise plan that’s right for you. This may involve some strengthening and stretching exercises. Your physiotherapist will help you get the right balance between activity and rest so you keep active without feeling undue pain.

Physiotherapy is often part of a well-balanced treatment plan for many of the types of arthritis. It focuses on maintaining, restoring or improving physical function as well as preventing and managing pain through the use of non-medication treatments.

Physiotherapists assess the level of mobility, strength and physical function of a person living with disease or injury. They also examine relevant x-rays and laboratory tests such as blood tests. Using that assessment, the physiotherapist develops a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to the clients needs. Some of the treatments used by the physiotherapist includes:

  • Thermotherapy (application of heat or cold)- one of the top tools of pain management used by physiotherapists is the application of heat or cold to affected joints. Many people find the heat of a warm bath, heat pack or paraffin bath eases arthritis pain. Others find relief in cold packs. Still others prefer alternating between the two
  • Electrotherapy (electric nerve stimulation)- there are several kinds of electrotherapy. A common one called the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) interferes with the ability of nerves to transmit pain signals to the brain. Physiotherapists may use electrotherapy to reduce pain associated with arthritis
  • Manual therapy- a hands on approach to keep joint structures mobile, to reduce joint pain and stiffness
  • Exercise- physical activity is an important area for managing arthritis. Exercises may be designed to improve strength, mobility and flexibility. These exercises also help to improve a client’s pain and overall well being. Knowing the right kind of exercises to do is the key. There are three general types of exercises used in physiotherapy:
    1. Range of motion exercises- these are designed to take joints through as full a range of motion as possible, to help keep people with arthritis- especially inflammatory types- from losing mobility in affected joints
    2. Strengthening exercises- these are intended to help people with arthritis gain muscle mass and increase muscle strength. Strong muscles can help to protect joints
    3. General conditioning exercises- developed to help people with arthritis to maintain general fitness and healthy body weight

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