Arthritis is a condition that can potentially cause a significant amount of pain and disability. When most people refer to arthritis they are referring specifically to osteoarthritis (OA); however, there are other form of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and septic arthritis. OA can occur in any joint, but is most often found in the hands, neck, low back, knees, and hips.
OA is the most common chronic joint condition and is caused by wear and tear of the joints in the body. Over time the cartilage at the ends of the bones deteriorates resulting in a rougher surface that does not glide as easily. It is a natural process that occurs in everyone, but certain conditions can make the problem more prevalent or symptomatic. So what are some of these conditions? Heavy load on the joints via sports/work/recreational activities, obesity, previous injury, aging, and genetics can all lead to OA. OA is a form of arthritis that typically occurs later in life after the joints have seen a lot of wear, but injuries earlier in life can cause the condition to become present sooner. Obesity is another factor that can cause the condition to occur sooner due to the heavier load that is being placed on the weight bearing joints of the body.
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for arthritis; but there are means of decreasing pain, improving function, and overall slowing down the progression of the disease. How, then, is OA treated? Certain pain medications including acetaminophen (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and narcotics can assist with decreasing symptoms but these can also result in various side effects. Physical therapy is a very common means of treating OA, that has few side effects, and it can have more lasting results.
At Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness, we have seen our fair share of patients with hip and knee OA as well as various other arthritic joints. The key concepts that we use for treating our patients with knee and hip OA include:
- Strengthening the muscles around the joints – to decrease the stress that is placed on the joints by improving the muscle coordination and strength around the joint area
- Progressing range of motion – to increase the range in the joint area that is restricted in order to regain function
- Improving the accessory motion in the joint – to improve the glide of the joint for smoother motion by using traction or other manual techniques
- Simulating or recreating functional tasks – to allow function to be restored with a decreased level of discomfort by using functional tasks that are monitored and corrected for proper form and joint positioning
- Modalities for pain control – to decrease the level of pain in the joint in order to allow for improved function
Physical therapy can be extremely successful in assisting with the reduction of pain in patients with hip and knee OA, but self-management must occur following treatment in order to maintain long term benefits. Avoiding activity due to arthritis pain is actually more irritating for the joints than doing some degree of movement or activity. Reducing weight, specifically for patients who are overweight, is an important component of self-management as well. Losing weight decreases stress on the joints and, therefore, may decrease the progression of the disease.
If the condition is too severe, however, more invasive measures may need to be taken. These less conservative treatments may include a cortisone shot, lubrication injection, surgical realignment of the bones, or a joint replacement. Typically your doctor will recommend a more conservative route like physical therapy before resorting to more invasive treatments like surgery.
We hope that this blog was informative. If you have any questions on this topic or any others in which you are interested, feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions.