What Physical Therapy Can Do For Arthritis

What Physical Therapy Can Do For Arthritis

At Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford and Alliance Forth Worth, TX, we see many patients with arthritis pain. Arthritis is one condition that can be incredibly debilitating to a sufferer of this disease and can keep you from fully enjoying your life. This blog post is designed to be a resource for you, and help you take control of your condition and let Arthritis know who is in charge.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. The hips, knees, hands, and spine are the most commonly affected joints. Arthritis is not a single disease but an umbrella term that includes a variety of different types. Some of the more common examples are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

In the early stages of arthritis, our goal is to maintain or improve your joint range of motion and muscle strength. If your joint is severely damaged, our Physical Therapist will focus on managing your pain and finding special equipment to help you with necessary tasks. The rehabilitation experts at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy are also experienced in helping people recover from joint surgery. Our rehab program will involve managing your symptoms, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

While physical therapy might not be the first treatment you think of for arthritis, it probably should be. A lot of people with arthritis choose to use medication to manage their pain, stop activities that hurt, and wait for things to get bad enough to have a joint replacement. But this isn't a great plan - all medications have side effects, even over the counter ones. Reducing activity leads to muscle atrophy and even stiffer joints. Even though joint replacement surgery usually has good outcomes, it does come with its own set of risks and a painful recovery.

What kind of treatments and activities might the Physical Therapist recommend for Arthritis?

1. Controlling Your Symptoms

Rehabilitation therapy, combined with drugs and other treatments prescribed by your doctor, can help you manage the pain and swelling in your joints. Your Physical Therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy recommendations will depend on your specific symptoms and needs and may include one or more of the following treatment choices.

2. Rest

Knowing when to rest painful joints can help ease arthritis pain. Rest is especially important during flare-ups. As a common sense rule, if a certain activity or movement causes severe pain, avoid doing it. If you can't avoid it, do it less or take frequent breaks to let your joints rest.

Our Physical Therapist may make you a special resting splint to support your sore joint when you're not using it. A resting splint keeps the joint properly aligned, which limits pain and prevents joint deformity.

3. Heat

Heat makes blood vessels expand, which is called vasodilation. Vasodilation helps flush away chemicals that make your joints and muscles hurt. It also helps your muscles relax. Moist hot packs, heating pads, and warm showers or baths are the most effective forms of heat therapy. Heat treatments usually involve applying heat to the sore area for fifteen to twenty minutes. Paraffin baths or warm whirlpools can be especially helpful for joints of the hands or feet. You may find you have less pain and better mobility after applying heat.

Be cautious when using heat. While heat can be very helpful at times, heat can make serious inflammation and certain types of arthritis worse. Even if heat is the best treatment for your discomfort, hotter is not better. Your skin can overheat and even burn. Sleeping with an electric heat pad is a bad idea. The prolonged heat can actually burn your skin.

4. Electrical Stimulation

Gentle electrical currents through the skin can help ease pain and decrease swelling. Electrical stimulation eases pain by replacing pain impulses with the impulses of the electrical current. Once the pain lets up, the muscles begin to relax, making movement and activity easier.

5. Topical Creams

Certain creams rubbed on the skin can give temporary relief to sore joints. The rubbing is relaxing, and the creams create feelings of warmth or coolness that are soothing. Creams containing Capsaicin, a compound derived from the common pepper plant, have been shown to effectively relieve arthritis pain. With all creams, you need to wash your hands after using them. What feels good on your sore joint does not feel good in your eyes.

6. Therapeutic Exercise and Functional Training

Whether at work, home, or play, your capabilities depend on your physical health and function. Specialized treatments and exercises can help maximize your physical abilities, including movement, strength, and general fitness. Physical Therapists also use functional training when you need help doing specific activities with greater ease and safety.

Exercise is safe for arthritis patients. In fact, it's necessary if you want to improve or maintain joint function. Avoiding exercise just makes your arthritis worse. The less a joint is used, the weaker and stiffer it becomes. This leads to even more pain. Even if you don't have much range of motion in a joint, our Physical Therapists can help you find ways of stretching and moving that can help strengthen your joint. There are some specific types of exercises that our Physical Therapists recommend especially for people with arthritis.

7. Stretching

Gentle stretching lengthens muscles and helps the joint maintain its shape and mobility. Our therapists teach specific stretches for different types of joints.

8. Strengthening

Muscles themselves are not part of joints, but strong muscles around a joint help joints move with less pain. Toned muscles act as shock absorbers in protecting the joint.

Your Physical Therapist in Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy will teach you strengthening exercises that have been adapted especially for arthritic joints. Isometric exercises involve tightening muscles without moving joints. This allows you to keep the muscles strong without stressing your joints. Isometrics can often be done even during flare-ups.

9. Lifestyle Management and Functional Training

It is important that you be very open with our therapist about the ways your disease affects your daily activities. We can then suggest ways to help you reduce the effort it takes to do difficult tasks.

10. Ergonomics

When they hear the word ergonomics, most people think of the way their desk and computer are set up at work. The meaning is larger than that. Ergonomics considers the way you use your body when you take part in certain activities.

Rehabilitation Physical Therapists examine your workstation to help determine if you need to make changes. Our Physical Therapist Ron Barkman made a recent video on Workplace Ergonomics. Check out the video to get a more visual perspective. We will pay special attention to your posture, the repetitions involved in your work, rest times, the amount of weight you are working with, and which activities seem to cause you the most problems. We will look at the heights of your chair and desk, alignment of computer monitors, lighting, and any special equipment you use.

After evaluating your work site, our Physical Therapist will make recommendations. If changes are suggested, they are usually small and inexpensive, such as changing the height of your chair or standing in a different position. But even these minor changes can make big differences in your discomfort on the job.

The ideas behind ergonomics can also be applied to the tasks you do at home. If you have problems with specific jobs or hobbies, talk to our Physical Therapist. Together you may come up with a plan or some simple devices that can help.

11. Pacing Yourself

Plan to take breaks. Pace your activities so that you don't get too tired or have to force your joint to function through pain.

12. Taking Care of Your Mind

Not all of your homework will be physical. Dealing with the pain and loss of function of arthritis can be emotionally draining. Make sure you take care of yourself mentally, and try to bolster your coping skills. Breathing exercises, naps, visual imagery, and meditation all can help you relax. Learning more about your condition can help you feel more in control of your disease. Many people find support groups helpful.

13. Home Program

At Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy, our goal is to help you figure out ways to keep your pain under control and improve your strength and range of motion. Once your rehabilitation is well under way, regular visits to our office will end. Although we will continue to be a resource for you, you will be in charge of your own ongoing rehabilitation program.

Physical Therapy at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Alliance Forth Worth, TX

With so many techniques that are proven effective in helping people with arthritis, physical therapy is a recommended first line treatment for many types of arthritis. Now that you have a better understanding of what physical therapy can do, hopefully you'll think of physical therapy first when you think of arthritis, too.

There is no reason you shouldn't be able to do all of the activities that you love to do, whether it is dance, play a sport, lift your children or your grandchildren, or simply sit at the computer and update your Facebook status. Arthritis doesn't have to kill your fun and if you work with us, we won't let it.

If you experience arthritis, it is possible to find relief! Physical therapy can help you with your symptoms! Contact us at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy in Bedford, Alliance Forth Worth, and we’ll help!


  1. Research (peer-reviewed)
    1. PT for juvenile RA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1946625/
    2. PT for hip and knee OA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33034560/
    3. Systematic Review for Juvenile RA - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28729171/
  2. Articles and Content
    1. Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis-  https://www.rheumatology.org/About-Us/Newsroom/Press-Releases/ID/718
    2. Can physical therapy reduce arthritis pain? - https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/physical-therapy-for-arthritis

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