Healthy Lifestyle

Can physical therapy help arthritis?

A person points to a painful joint on their hand caused by arthritis during a physical exam.


By Stacie McLaughlin, physical therapy supervisor, Nuvance Health

When it comes to arthritis, the goal of physical therapy is to reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue while improving motion, endurance and stamina. Successful therapy sessions can improve coordination and balance as well as reduce the progression of arthritic changes. Request an appointment.

Improving mobility, reducing stiffness

Joints need to be bathed in synovial fluid to move smoothly and the muscles surrounding those joints need to be flexible and strong to work optimally. This is where a physical therapist can help. To improve joint mobility, physical therapists:

  • Work on movement patterns to reduce the stress placed on joints and the spine.
  • Provide soft tissue techniques to reduce pain.
  • Instruct in exercises and activity modification to improve body mechanics. 
  • Identify and address any changes in gait or posture due to arthritis.

Physical therapy is often utilized in conjunction with other treatments such as medications, supplements and topical treatments to assist in reducing the inflammatory process that the body is going through.  


Problems caused by arthritis

There are two types of arthritis that can affect your ability to participate in daily activities: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. With both, you may experience:

  • Pain.
  • Loss of mobility in a single or multiple joints.
  • Increased swelling, stiffness, inflammation and tenderness.
  • Impaired walking, climbing stairs and doing household tasks. 
  • Decreased desire to move the joint.
  • Muscle loss.

A physical therapist will work with you to prevent these problems or prevent them from becoming worse. Request an appointment.


What to expect at an appointment

During your initial physical therapy visit, the therapist will evaluate your posture, strength, range of motion, balance and how your body moves when you do daily activities. They will determine if there are muscle imbalances that could be aggravating your arthritic symptoms. 

You may perform exercises that strengthen your muscles and improve your posture. Exercises may include the use of equipment like an exercise bike, rower, treadmill or elliptical as well as weight-training exercises. A therapist may suggest you use assistive device or make home modification to help you perform certain tasks.

Therapists also use manual techniques to reduce tightness and spasms, which could aggravate the forces placed on a particular joint. Manual techniques can also reduce the pain cycle by improving the flow of good nutrients to the affected area and assist in flushing out impurities and swelling. Studies have found that physical therapy with manual techniques is more effective in reducing pain from knee osteoarthritis than intraarticular steroid injections.

If you think physical therapy could help you ease some of your arthritic pain, speak with your primary care doctor for a referral and schedule an appointment. 

Learn more about physical therapy at Nuvance Health.

Stacie McLaughlin is a physical therapist and supervisor at Nuvance Health’s Western Connecticut Home Care. She also worked in an orthopedic outpatient setting for more than 25 years, with a specialty in biomechanical foot orthotics and gait dynamics.