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Nearly 4 million Canadians have a diagnosis of osteoarthritis; this represents approximately 13% of the population. Halifax seniors are no exception to this statistic. Many of those with osteoarthritis live with chronic joint pain and dysfunction due to the disease and may find themselves asking the question, “does physio help arthritis?”.

Before we answer that question, we must take a closer look at the condition itself. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It can affect any joint in the body but it is most common in the hands, knees, hips and spine. Appropriate medical care can play a pivotal role in ensuring osteoarthritis is optimally managed and doesn’t cause unnecessary pain, dysfunction and disability for Halifax seniors.

Osteoarthritis is a painful disease of the joint where the cartilage that lines the ends of the bones degrades. As a result of this cartilage thinning, there is increased friction between the bones. This friction can make physical activities painful. It can also lead to issues such as inflammation/swelling, bone spurs, joint stiffness, joint instability and muscle weakness.

So, as for the question, does physio help arthritis? The answer is a resounding, YES!

Does physio help arthritis pain?
Yes! Many Halifax seniors with osteoarthritis reduce their level of physical activity in an effort to reduce their pain. Unfortunately, this tends to have the reverse effect and causes an increase in pain. Professional physiotherapy guidance for activity selection/modification and education about symptom self-management can help seniors better manage their osteoarthritis pain.

Does physio help arthritis stiffness?
Yes! The inflammation and swelling associated with arthritis can make it difficult to move the affected joint. Physiotherapists can help Halifax seniors set up an individualized activity plan that optimizes the mobility of the joint. This may include activities like light cycling or swimming. It may also involve using walking aids or braces to reduce the pressure in the joint to allow a higher level of physical activity (which reduces inflammation and related joint stiffness).

Before starting a course of physiotherapy for osteoarthritis, it is important to consider what the measure of success will be. The ultimate goal of physiotherapy for osteoarthritis should be to help maintain the highest level of physical activity possible within a tolerable level of symptoms.

Too often treatment plans for osteoarthritis get sidetracked by focusing on reducing symptoms by using passive treatments (non-exercise interventions). Although short-term symptom management strategies are important, if the treatment program doesn’t include appropriate exercise, it will be unlikely to be successful in the long term.

Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis should include a functional fitness program focused on improving joint mobility, muscle strength and alignment during functional movements (ie: walking, getting up from a chair). With the guidance of a physiotherapist, the selection and prescription of exercises can be individualized based on each person’s needs.

An important note on pain during exercise with osteoarthritis. It is normal that joints with osteoarthritis hurt when we use them. As long as the physiotherapy for osteoarthritis exercises are being done with proper technique, it is unlikely that this pain indicates any harm occurring in the joint; it just hurts.

When the correct exercises are performed in the correct dosage, the pain level in the joint typically improves over time. This means that, within reason, the more active Halifax seniors are with osteoarthritis, the more comfortable they will be. A course of physiotherapy for osteoarthritis should always have as it’s primary goal to ensure the highest level of physical activity that is reasonably achievable.

In fact, many people with osteoarthritis start using their physiotherapy exercise program as a way to manage their osteoarthritis symptoms. On days that symptoms are flared up, using specific exercises can help activate the right muscles in the right way to better support the joint and reduce dysfunction.

To answer the question, “Does physio help arthritis?”, the answer is definitely yes.

As with any medical condition, professional guidance in the development of a physiotherapy exercise program for osteoarthritis is integral to its safety and success. At our Halifax location, our physiotherapists have experience treating chronic health conditions and group-based programs like the GLA:D Program (Good Life with osteoArthritis, from Denmark). They can help Halifax seniors establish a physiotherapy for osteoarthritis program that promotes better symptom management and functional ability.

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