Physiotherapy helps to keep the muscles and joints moving, increasing mobility and reducing pain. Many people who suffer from arthritis benefit from physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy for arthritis delivers helpful advice to increase levels of activity and provides techniques for pain relief.

How Can Physiotherapy Help with Arthritis?

Physiotherapy uses evidence-based techniques to improve general fitness while managing pain, strengthening muscles and restoring or improving function in parts of the body that have been affected by arthritis.

Physiotherapists are health professionals who work with patients to resume or maintain an active and independent life. They use their knowledge of movement and biomechanics to educate people on how to protect their joints. Physiotherapy for arthritis offers advice and reassurance so that patients can feel confident about managing their condition and maintaining an active and healthy life as much as possible.

Physiotherapy can help patients to:

  • Manage pain
  • Understand how arthritis affects them
  • Improve fitness levels
  • Continue moving
  • Become stronger and more flexible

What Are Some Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques?

Physiotherapists are highly trained to diagnose and treat joint and muscle problems associated with arthritis. Initially, a physio will perform a thorough assessment of the patient’s condition. This is done through a series of questions, and by examining the patient’s joints. This assessment allows the physiotherapist to develop a treatment program that is specifically tailored to the individual’s needs.

Physiotherapy for arthritis may include the following:

  • Advice and education on how to safely increase activity levels
  • A program of exercises specific to the patient
  • Pain relief techniques and advice, for example, massage, ice packs, manipulation and dry needling
  • The prescription of mobility aids where necessary

What Exercises Benefit Arthritis the Most?

Remaining active is important for those with arthritis. Joints are designed to move, and inactivity can weaken the surrounding muscles and tissues. This causes the joints to become less stable, reducing the person’s ability to maintain mobility and independence. Regular exercise not only increases general fitness, but it also helps with maintaining a healthy weight and improves overall mobility.

It is important to start exercising gently and gradually, increasing activity under supervision. There may be a slight increase in pain at the beginning, but this will improve as strength increases. In general, some of the exercises that will benefit those who have arthritis include:

  • Muscle Strengthening – Strong muscles support the joints, improve balance and strengthen bones. This may include resistance bands, weights or gym machines.
  • Flexibility – Exercises for flexibility improve the mobility of joints and muscles, this might include Yoga, Pilates, muscle stretches and gently moving the joints to their limit.
  • Fitness – These activities focus on the larger muscles in the body rather than a specific area and usually increase breathing rate, for example, a brisk walk.

It helps to choose an activity that is convenient and enjoyable for the individual. There is no single exercise recommended for those with arthritis. Low-impact exercise, with less force and weight on the joints, are often the most beneficial. Some examples include:

  • Exercising in water (Hydrotherapy)
  • Walking
  • Strength training
  • Pilates or yoga
  • Tai-chi
  • Dancing
  • Cycling

How Much Exercise Should I Do?

It’s recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. However, for those who have arthritis and haven’t exercised for a long time, beginning with shorter sessions may be necessary. A physiotherapist will provide advice and guidance on how to get started and how to avoid overdoing it.

Although it may be difficult to predict how the body will cope with a new activity, it’s important to listen to the body. A good rule to follow is the “two-hour pain rule”. If there is extra or unusual pain for more than two hours after exercise, it may have been overdone. The next session should be reduced. A physiotherapist will be able to advise on what to do when experiencing pain after or during exercise. However, exercising through the pain that is beyond normal or unusual is not recommended and may lead to a worsening of arthritis symptoms.

Safety Tips

  • It may be necessary to rest more and exercise less during “flare” periods.
  • Don’t vigorously exercise a joint which is swollen, painful, red or hot.
  • Always increase new activity gradually
  • Talk to a health professional, such as a physiotherapist before beginning a new exercise program
  • Warm-up joints and the body before exercise
  • Cool down after exercise with gentle stretches and movements
  • Do not push through unusual or increased pain

Physiotherapy can provide many benefits for those suffering from arthritis. Physiotherapy helps to relieve pain, increase joint movement and maintain independence for individuals. A physiotherapist provides an understanding of how arthritis affects the joints and muscles and provides useful advice on how to manage pain. Contact a physio near you to learn more about the benefits that physiotherapy can bring to those who suffer from arthritis.