Physical therapy focuses on the body’s ability to engage in movement. Movement can be anything from getting in and out of chairs to climbing stairs, walking in your neighborhood, playing a sport or doing recreational activities.
Goals of physical therapy in arthritis include improving the mobility and restoring the use of affected joints, increasing strength to support the joints, and maintaining fitness and the ability to perform daily activities.
What Can Physical Therapy Do for You?
- Develop an individualized plan of exercises to improve flexibility, strength, coordination and balance to achieve optimal physical function.
- Teach you proper posture and body mechanics for common daily activities to relieve pain and improve function.
- Show you how to properly use assistive devices such as walkers and canes.
- Recommend different treatment options, such as braces and splints to support joints, shoe inserts to relieve stress on the lower extremities, and hot and cold therapy to ease joint pain and stiffness.
- Suggest modifications to your environment, such as ergonomic chairs or a cushioned mat in your kitchen, to relieve pain and improve function.
What Does a Physical Therapy Session Look Like?
The goal of a physical therapy session is to teach you how to do things in your treatment plan – such as performing certain exercises, or how to best use hot/cold compresses – for yourself. The visits are often short and focus on identifying problems with your physical function and giving strategies for care that you can do at home.
The key to a successful outcome is learning the exercises from a physical therapist and practicing them at home over the long term. Improvement is gradual – the body gets stronger and more adept slowly over time – so consistent practice is essential.
When visiting the PT, think clearly about what your complaint is and what you would like to be able to do after physical therapy. Your goal can be getting in and out of your car without pain, raising up on your toes or raising your arms to reach items in your kitchen cabinets, taking a walk or performing your job without pain in the hips, knees and feet. Your PT can then work with you to develop a plan that is right for you to achieve your goals.
In most cases, you don’t need to see the PT every week. Periodic visits every few months are sufficient to update your program if necessary. When you experience a change in your health – such as a flare in your arthritis that causes you to fall behind in your exercise program or involvement of a different joint that affects another area of function – you can return to the physical therapist to update your exercise program and treatment strategy.