Arthritis / Painful Joints

Arthritis of all joints

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition in which a single joint or multiple joints in the body experience pain and inflammation. It is the number one cause of disability in the United States and impacts more than 50 million people, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

There are two main types of arthritis that you've probably heard of. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that impacts more women than men. Rheumatoid arthritis is unique in that it can impact joints on both sides of the body simultaneously. Osteoarthritis is the more common type, and that is what people usually mean when they say arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by wear and tear on the cartilage in the joints. People with arthritis usually experience stiff and sore joints first thing in the morning, which subsides after a little while. It can also cause pain during physical activity or work, which goes away after you stop doing that activity and rest. Arthritic joints can be sensitive or painful to touch, and they also tend to be noisy joints, causing popping sounds when bending.

Causes of arthritis

Osteoarthritis is caused by "wear and tear" on a joint. Why does this happen? When a joint is in motion, the cartilage between the bones that cushions them wears down over time (or suddenly, in the case of an injury.) When the bones no longer have enough of that protective cushioning between them, it causes them to grind together, which causes the stiffness and pain of arthritis. This happens to all of us to a certain extent as we age, but there are some additional factors that can contribute to arthritis:

  • Injury: If you sustain an injury to a weight-bearing joint, especially a knee or a hip, it can lead to osteoarthritis later in life - even if you fully recover at the time.
  • Repetitive Jobs: An occupation that requires a lot of repetitive motion, such as bending, twisting, squatting or kneeling, can break down cartilage and lead to early onset of arthritis. Construction workers, flooring installers and even child care workers (who bend over to pick up small children frequently) will often develop arthritis as a result of their careers.
  • Athletics: Athletes who put a lot of repetitive strain on their joints are also more prone to osteoarthritis, such as baseball pitchers, ballet dancers, and football players.
  • Weight: Being overweight can lead to arthritis as well because it puts extra strain on weight-bearing joints.

While those are the causes of osteoarthritis, doctors don't know as much about rheumatoid arthritis because it is an autoimmune condition. Its cause is believed to be a combination of genetics, environmental and hormonal factors.

How physical therapy can help with arthritis

A physical therapist will work with you to determine the best course of therapy for your type of arthritis. Most people who suffer from arthritis can benefit from working with a physical therapist. Exercise is an important part of any treatment plan for arthritis, but it has to be done correctly. Your physical therapist will work with you on weight management to avoid additional strain on your joints; posture to ensure that you don't cause further injury to joints; and specific techniques for alleviating arthritic joint pain. Thermal treatments that include ice or heat packs may be a part of the process, combined with ultrasound or other techniques. The goal is to reduce stress on the joints with arthritis, so you can enjoy a better quality of life.

If you'd like to know more about how working with a physical therapist can improve your arthritis symptoms, contact us today to request an appointment!