Arthritis – Joint Inflammation

(Brian P. Haas, Physical Therapist, Director of Rehabilitation)

Arthritis is categorized as the inflammation of one or more joints, typically marked by a nagging pain. While arthritis is uncomfortable, there are a few steps you can take to make it more manageable.

A joint is the area where two bones meet. There are over 100 different types of arthritis which involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk, and more so when you run or jump. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness.

Diagnosis is made by clinical examination from an appropriate health professional, and may be supported by other tests such as radiology and blood tests, depending on the type of suspected arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It can affect both large small joints of the body, including the hands, feet, back, hip or knee. Osteoarthritis is acquired from daily wear and tear of the joint; however, osteoarthritis can also occur as a result of injury.

Osteoarthritis is most commonly a disease of the elderly. More than 30 percent of females have some degree of osteoarthritis by age 65.

Lifestyle changes are the preferred treatment for osteoarthritis and other types of joint inflammation. If you are overweight, weight loss can greatly reduce joint pain in the lower back, legs and feet.

Exercise can help relieve stiffness, reduce pain and fatigue, and improve muscle and bone strength. Your health care team can help you design an exercise program that is best for you.

Exercise programs may include:

  • Low-impact aerobic activity
  • Range of motion exercises and stretches for flexibility
  • Strength training for muscle tone

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage.

Physical Therapy may be recommended which might include:

  • Heat or ice
  • Flexibility and gentle strengthening exercises
  • Splints or orthotics for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Water therapy and exercises
  • Massage

Medications may be prescribed along with lifestyle changes. All medications have risks, some more than others. It is important that you are closely monitored by a doctor when taking arthritis medications. Generally, over-the-counter medications are recommended  before prescriptions are used.

It is very important to take your medications as directed by your doctor.  Be certain your doctor knows all the medicines you are taking, including vitamins and supplements bought without a prescription.

A few arthritis-related disorders can be completely cured with proper treatment. Most forms of arthritis however are long-term (chronic) conditions. In some cases, surgery may be done if other treatments have not worked. This may include:

  • Meniscectomy to trim the torn portion of meniscus
  • Arthroplasty to rebuild or repair the joint surfaces
  • Joint replacement, such as a total knee replacement

Individuals with arthritis can benefit from both physical and occupational therapy. With arthritis, joints become stiff and the range of movement can be limited. Physical therapy has been shown to significantly improve range of motion, reduce pain, and delay the need for surgery. Exercise prescribed by a physical therapist focuses on improving muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. An Occupational Therapist can provide assistance with activities as well as equipment.

If you suspect you have arthritis, see a physician, physical therapist or occupational therapist who can recommend ways to manage your symptoms, increase mobility and reduce pain.

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