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Physical Therapy Goals for Arthritis Patients

A comprehensive treatment plan includes physical therapy

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Updated December 17, 2007

Many patients find physical therapy an essential part of arthritis treatment. Physical therapy can help patients cope with pain and disability caused by arthritis. Because there is no cure for arthritis, the focus of treatment is on disease management.

A patient's doctor and physical therapist work together to define goals for physical therapy. The patient's input is necessary too, to establish their priorities -- in other words, what the patient feels he should be able to do. Together, the physical therapist and the patient work towards what is realistically achievable.

The condition of the patient's joints (including strength, flexibility, and deformity) as well as muscle strength and physical endurance must be considered when a treatment plan is developed for physical therapy. By setting goals and working hard at physical therapy, patients can usually improve physical function (enhance their ability to perform daily living activities).

Exercise is Beneficial for Arthritis Patients

An appropriate exercise plan can reduce joint pain and stiffness, while improving muscle strength, joint flexibility, balance, coordination, and endurance. What is appropriate exercise? An exercise program that takes into consideration physical limitations and plans for gradual improvement is appropriate. A physical therapist is able to assess each patient individually and teach the patient how to perform range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and aerobic exercises.

Joint Protection Techniques Ease Arthritis Symptoms

Joint protection is important for improving joint mobility and decreasing the risk of joint deformity. It's important to avoid unnecessary stress and strain on the joints. To reduce stress on the joints, patients should try to maintain or improve muscle strength. Patients should be aware of body position when moving. It's also important to not overdo activities, to move around before becoming too stiff, and to use assistive devices and adaptive equipment. There is a lot a patient can do to protect their joints -- most of which is common sense.

Proper Body Mechanics Are Important

Body mechanics refer to how a person moves. Correct body position helps to reduce joint and muscle pain, stress and strain on the joints, and the risk of injury. Everyone should be conscious of their movements as they walk, sit, stand, lift, reach, and even sleep! Good posture and proper alignment are essential. A physical therapist can help improve awareness of proper body mechanics.

Heat or Ice Can Decrease Pain and Inflammation

Heat or ice can be soothing and relieve the discomfort associated with joint pain or muscular aches. Patients often ask which is better -- heat or ice. For the most part, it depends on the type of arthritis as well as what joints or muscles are symptomatic (painful, swollen, or inflamed). Some patients prefer heat to ice or vice versa. A physical therapist can help individual patients discover which is more effective.

Assistive Devices Make Everyday Tasks Less Challenging

Arthritis causes joint pain, muscle weakness, limited range of motion, and joint deformity in some cases. With restricted movement and pain upon movement -- simple tasks are made more difficult. There are many assistive devices that have been specially designed to compensate for lost range of motion and to enhance joint protection. Physical therapists and occupational therapists help patients identify activities that are most difficult and help find solutions. Assistive devices are available to help with nearly every activity of daily living.

Conserving Energy is Key to Pain Management

Overdoing activities can make a patient feel "spent." Pain, stiffness, fatigue -- all increase when activity is not balanced with rest. A patient must be aware of what is "too much" and learn to stop before reaching that point. Pain is a signal that something is wrong. A physical therapist can help a patient define their limitations and consciously pace their activities.

Source:

Pathway to Independence: Physical Therapy for Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis. Anne Ahlman, MPT. MedGenMed. 2004; 6(2): 9. Published online 2004 May 18.
http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1395798

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