Osteoarthritis Physical Therapy : the pros and cons

osteoarthritis physical therapy

Osteoarthritis physical therapy is the single most important treatment.

I consider that mixing and matching different forms of osteoarthritis pain relief is vital for the successful management for osteoarthritis. However we believe osteoarthritis physical therapy is the single most important treatment.

Osteoarthritis physical therapy is not a cure as it can do nothing to regenerate the worn cartilage. The only aim of osteoarthritis physical therapy is to restore function to the degenerated joint by improving the muscles, tendons and ligaments (soft tissue) around the joint which act as scaffolding and creates movement. It is now known the muscles around the joint becomes inflamed and so painful. The sole purpose of osteoarthritis physical therapy is to reduce the inflammation and restore flexibility and strength in the soft tissue.

The 3 Components of Good Osteoarthritis Physical Therapy

Osteoarthritis physical therapy should have several components to it.

osteoarthritis physical therapy

You can reduce inflammation by using electrical therapies or by using ice and massage.

The first part of any osteoarthritis physical therapy program should do something to reduce the inflammation. They might use electrical therapies such as TENS, laser, ultrasound or interferential or they may use simple ice packs and massage. Each therapist will have a favorite form but, in practice, I found little difference in the outcome. At Derby County the masseur and myself used ice packs and massage while the physiotherapists used ultrasound. In my opinion both worked equally well and, at what was then a Premiership soccer club, we wanted to reduce inflammation fast and there is no difference in reducing inflammation when doing osteoarthritis physical therapy.

The second part of osteoarthritis physical therapy is to first increase flexibility of the soft tissue. This will allow a greater movement and also stop, or at least reduce, the awful stiffness so many of us suffer when we have stopped for a while. This will be done by stretching the soft tissue.

Hands up who sometimes can’t get out of their chair after watching TV for a while? What’s it like getting out of bed in the morning? If you suffer from these types of problems osteoarthritis physical therapy may relieve your symptoms a fair bit and stop you setting while you are still.

Do you also find these symptoms are made worse when we have overdone it during the day? I know I do! This effect can be reduced by the third component to osteoarthritis physical therapy which is strengthening the soft tissue. Strengthening allows you to do more before you start to get pain during an activity as well as reducing the after effects of doing too much.

Strengthening in an osteoarthritis physical therapy program can be either done by isometric exercises where the joint is kept still so you don’t irritate the worn surface or by isotonic exercises when the joint is moved as well. This is vital for overall function.

The Problems of Osteoarthritis Physical Therapy

There are some major drawbacks to osteoarthritis physical therapy.

Firstly as I said at the beginning of the article physical therapy for osteoarthritis will not cure the condition- it will, however, reduce the symptoms and allow you to do more with less pain.

That leads onto the second and third problems. As physical therapy does not cure the osteoarthritis it means therapy has to be done for the rest of your life (or until you have rehabbed from a joint replacement anyway!). Reducing soft tissue inflammation (this will keep reoccurring due to the dysfunctional joint) and maintaining soft tissue must be kept up forever. That means ongoing visits to the therapist.

Good news for the therapist, not good news for the bank balance as Pat Foucht discovered. You can read her full story at the Democrat and Chronicle.com where they discuss the cost of going for osteoarthritis physical therapy, in this case for Pat’s back.

With a $40 co-payment for each specialty appointment, recommended twice-weekly physical therapy sessions would cost $80. Over a five- or six-week course of treatment, her bill could run into the hundreds of dollars.

I hate to point out the obvious but why would this be only a five or six week course? The therapist is not going to cure her so she will have this ongoing cost for the rest of her life (or until she has run out of money anyway!).

How to get osteoarthritis physical therapy without bankrupting yourself!

The obvious solution is to become your own physical therapist and learn how to use ice packs and massage to reduce inflammation and to have a stretching and strengthening program that you can continue in the years to come.

You can learn to do your own osteoarthritis physical  therapy by clicking here.

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