Many individuals who have arthritis “treat” their pain by simply avoiding activity — usually because they think movement and exercise would be uncomfortable. But the opposite may be true. Movement and exercise may help relieve symptoms, according to physical therapist Jackie Gfeller with Kitsap Physical Therapy and Sports Clinics.
“Movement is definitely medicine for those who have arthritis and when taught skillfully, patients can learn how to participate in a customized treatment and exercise plan within safe ranges to promote mobility and minimize symptoms,” Gfeller, says.
For instance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults with knee osteoarthritis who engage in moderate physical activity at least three times a week can reduce the risk of arthritis-related disability by 47 percent.
Although this condition is often associated with seniors and the elderly, the CDC estimates that 62 percent of adults with arthritis are actually under the age of 65. About 52.5 million adults and 294,000 children have some form of arthritis, according to the CDC.
Gfeller says that physical therapy is effective in treating most types of arthritis. Through the facilitation of fluid joint movement as well as the improvement of muscle strength and flexibility, arthritis pain and joint stiffness can be reduced, gradually reducing inflammation. These exercises can be graded up in difficulty as the individual progresses. Movement, she says, offers nourishment to the joints, which are the areas where degenerative changes to cartilage likely occur.
“Our joints are designed to pump, drawing nourishment in and removing wasteful byproducts that naturally build up,” Gfeller explains. “Exercise is a great way to stimulate this system, improving joint health.”
Improving muscle strength is also effective in treating arthritis. With increased muscle strength, Gfeller says, comes better joint stability and reduced joint stress, which together can reduce arthritis symptoms.
Physical therapy treatments can also play a positive role in reducing the need for surgeries and prescription pain medication, Gfeller adds.