Arthritis – Can Physiotherapy Help?
Did you know there are over 100 different types of arthritis? They come in different forms and have different symptoms. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnic background, and often with devastating and debilitating effects. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis.
Facts and figures about Arthritis in Canada from the Arthritis Society
- Over 4.6 million Canadians report having arthritis and that number can rise to an estimated 7.5 million by 2036
- Among all causes of disability in Canada, arthritis ranks first among women and third among men
- Health care costs is estimated to be $33 billion each year
- 2/3 Canadians affected by arthritis are women
- Nearly 3/5 people with arthritis are of working age
- More than a third of the adults who have arthritis report that it limits their leisure activities and work and 25% of them say it causes severe pain
- There will be a new diagnosis of osteoarthritis every 60 seconds
- The 2 most common types are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
What is the difference between osteoarthritis (OA) and inflammatory arthritis?
Once referred as “wear-and-tear arthritis”, osteoarthritis (OA) is classified as the degenerative type of arthritis. It can occur as part of the aging process, which leads to the breakdown of cartilage in joints over time. This can result in pain, stiffness, swelling and bone-on-bone reduction in range of movement in the affected joint. The joints most commonly affected by OA are the knees, hips, hands and spine.
Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the body’s defense system attacks the tissues of our joints instead of germs, viruses and other foreign substances. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis and can affect multiple joints and even internal organs of the body, such as the lungs or heart. It can cause hot, swollen, and painful joints, as well as stiffness and joint damage. This can lead to a change in the shape of the joint surface and deformity in more severe cases. It most commonly affects wrists/hands, shoulders, ankles and the smaller joints of the hand or feet. RA occurs more commonly on both sides of the body rather than one side like in OA. Other common types of inflammatory arthritis are: ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
Just because there is no cure for arthritis does not mean that you can’t manage or slow down the progression of the disease. Physiotherapy can help reduce risk, relieve pain and improve function for these individuals.
Physical Activity/Exercise: Performing specific exercises that are less stressful and apply less compression on the joints that are affected by OA can be prescribed. Range of motion, strengthening and endurance exercises are the types that are most helpful.
Heat/Cold therapy: Heat therapy, like applying a magic bag, can also help with alleviating pain and stiffness by applying it for 10-15 minutes. Cold therapy may be indicated for clients with a more active inflammatory arthritis. When the condition is in a flare up, cold can help to alleviate pain. There are other pain modalities that Physiotherapists can use depending on the severity of the condition, such as acupuncture.
Manual therapy: Some soft tissue techniques or joint mobilizations may be used to help improve the mobility and flexibility of the surrounding joints, soft tissue structures around the affected area.
Weight management: Did you know that 90% of knee replacement and 80% of hip replacement patients are either overweight or obese? Being overweight puts an extra burden on your weight-bearing joints (back, hips, knees, ankles and feet). Eating well and keeping your body nourished is vital to managing your arthritis.
Protecting your Joints: It is important to watch your alignment while performing different tasks to reduce the stress and compression on your joints. Pace yourself by alternating heavy or repetitive tasks with lighter tasks. Using an assistive device canf help conserve energy, such as raised seats, grab bars in showers, ramps or steps.
Early Intervention is Key!
If you or someone you know has arthritis, don’t wait until you require joint replacement surgery to start treating your condition. Early treatment in physiotherapy can help to slow down the progression or even the need for surgery. Participating in treatment before surgery can also help speed up your recovery afterwards.
Bellefleur Physiotherapy has supported the Arthritis Society for several years and has participated in the Walk to Fight Arthritis. To learn more about arthritis or to see how you can contribute to the community, visit the Arthritis Society of Canada’s website at www.arthritis.ca.