Osteoarthritis is undoubtedly a crippling condition. Stiff joints can make everyday activities like walking and getting out of bed a chore. Bending, kneeling, or squatting can induce excruciating pain.
Fortunately, an osteoarthritis specialized physiotherapy program can help alleviate the pain.
Through movement and guided exercise, physiotherapy acts to strengthen your joints and muscles (which normally act as a shock absorber of sorts for the body) — a weak point for osteoarthritis sufferers.
Here’s how that works:
Joint fluid lubricates the movements of bone surfaces while acting as a shock absorbing fluid. And much like the springs in your vehicle’s suspension — your muscles maintain balance and absorb most of the shock. When they’re strong and well-aligned, most of the force exerted on your body will be absorbed by your muscles, saving your joints from undue pressure. When your stabilizer muscles are weak or imbalanced, your joints take the brunt of every impact (like taking a step, bending, or even moving).
In other words, weak muscles and poor mobility compound the negative effects of osteoarthritis, and lead to further degeneration of your joints.
And that’s where the benefits of physiotherapy lie.
By focusing on movement, flexibility, and strength, physiotherapy can help:
- Increase muscle mass around the joints
- Improve your range of motion
- Reduce inflammation and swelling around the affected joint
- Prevent osteoarthritis from getting worse
- Keep you at a healthy weight to reduce ongoing pressure on your joints
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that increasing strength also improves function. The ability of arthritis patients to climb stairs, run, squat, and jump is greatly improved with increased strength.
What sort of physiotherapy exercises can I use for my osteoarthritis?
It’s best to consult with a sport medicine physician or physiotherapist before starting any physiotherapy program. Everyone’s condition is different, and a one-size-fits-all approach may do more harm than good. Body mechanics vary from person-to-person, as does strength, pain tolerance, and arthritis progression.
Starting on a generic program not tailored to your condition may actually induce more damage, and prevent future recovery.
It’s highly recommended to book an initial assessment with a trained specialist to determine if you have any deficiencies in strength, flexibility, agility (and other factors) that may be impacting the recovery of affected joints.
An individual treatment program will outline the frequency of therapy and a list of recommended exercises you can do at home.
Your physiotherapist may recommend some (or all) of the following workouts:
1. Flexibility Exercises
Flexibility exercises such as plates and yoga are an excellent way to gradually build up muscle strength. They’re also perfect for people who haven’t exercised for a long period of time and wish to build up their mobility gradually.
Since arthritis causes joint stiffness, flexibility exercises can help reduce pain by stretching your muscles and gently nudging your joints to expand. Over time this will build up strength and endurance, alleviating some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Your physiotherapist may suggest movements and routines similar to yoga and Pilates to improve flexibility.
2. Anaerobic Exercises
Anaerobic exercises (or non-endurance exercises) are more strenuous and may involve light free weights and exercise equipment. Body weight exercises (which require no additional equipment) are one of the safest way to start building a strength and mobility foundation, and are usually recommended before weighted workouts. This includes squats, lunges, and push-ups.
Physiotherapists often recommend modified body weight exercises to start building strength in a safe manner that doesn’t exacerbate your condition.
3. Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercises (or endurance exercises) require increased oxygen use, and are typically slower in pace. They can sometimes be recommended to patients suffering from specific types of osteoarthritis. These include walking, jogging, hiking, and swimming.
Note, that jogging and hiking may actually be harmful to osteoarthritis patients, as repeated shock to the joint can lead to increased pain and discomfort.
This is why many physiotherapists recommend swimming as a preferred aerobic exercise. Swimming allows you to build up your cardiovascular health and strength gradually, while placing minimal pressure on your joints.
In more severe cases of osteoarthritis, physiotherapists may recommend conducting aerobic exercises in a heated pool.
The water supports your weight and reduces joint strain. The warm temperature can increase mobility and alleviate pain. And as a bonus — it can be quite relaxing. Light swimming, treading in water, or simply walking in a heated pool can help build up muscle capacity and strength while reducing joint stiffness.
4. Manual Treatment and Other Therapies
Beyond daily exercise routines, your physiotherapist may also recommend in-person treatment at the clinic.
Manual treatment is one of the most common exercises conducted at physiotherapy clinics. It involves the physiotherapist using their hands to move, rotate, and stretch your arms, legs, and back in order to improve your range of movement and break down scar tissue.
Physiotherapists at Athletic Edge are also trained in joint mobilization, some perform acupuncture, and we have a host of other techniques which the physiotherapists can bring to bear in order to help with a patient’s osteoarthritis.
Done with the help of an expert, physiotherapy is a relatively risk-free process.
If the patient is giving the therapist honest feedback about how comfortable they are with specific treatments, then the therapist can gauge how much the patient is able to do, which effectively reduces any risk of a bad outcome.
At Athletic Edge Sports Medicine, we’ve helped hundreds of patients manage their osteoarthritis and related conditions. Contact us today to learn how our expert team of physicians and physiotherapists can achieve the same for you.