Physical therapy (PT) is a promising treatment option for arthritis.

Working with a physical therapist can help you manage symptoms, increase mobility, and improve physical function. They’ll also teach you specific exercises and techniques that can allow you to move with less pain and greater ease.

Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of using PT to treat arthritis, the best types of PT for arthritis, and exercise safety tips.

PT for arthritis helps ease symptoms and enhance your movement quality. This makes it easier to perform everyday movements.

Usually, PT is part of an arthritis treatment plan that also includes:

  • medications
  • supplements
  • topical treatments

A physical therapist will also evaluate your posture, muscle imbalances, and body mechanics. They’ll teach you to improve the way you move to prevent injury, reduce pain, and align your body.

A physical therapist can create a customized stretching and exercise plan that helps:

  • ease pain
  • increase your range of motion
  • improve movement patterns

It will include exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the joint areas, which can improve function and reduce joint stress.

PT for arthritis may also help you:

  • create an at-home workout routine
  • improve your overall fitness level
  • increase endurance
  • alleviate stiffness
  • decrease fatigue
  • improve balance and stability
  • increase coordination

What do the studies say?

According to 2020 research involving people with knee osteoarthritis, PT was more effective than intraarticular glucocorticoid (steroid) injections at reducing pain and functional disability.

Findings from another small 2020 study suggest that maintaining a consistent exercise routine has a positive impact on rheumatoid arthritis. Following an individualized exercise program is a safe, effective way to decrease fatigue, boost cardio fitness, and improve cognition. It also has a positive effect on body composition.

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The best type of PT for you will depend on your concerns and treatment goals. You can look for a physical therapist specializing in arthritis or a specific body part, such as the hands or feet.

A physical therapist may teach you to use:

They may also recommend an assistive device and teach you to use it correctly. Passive PT treatments that help to promote relaxation include massage, joint mobilizations, and electrotherapy.

See an occupational therapist for assistance with daily tasks or work activities. You’ll learn techniques and exercises to make your movements easier. They may also recommend home modifications and orthotics.

Physical therapy aims to improve function and decrease arthritis symptoms. Treatment should not make your symptoms worse or cause pain.

However, you may find some of the exercises challenging, especially in the beginning. After or during a PT session, it’s typical to experience a moderate amount of muscular discomfort or soreness.

Talk with your physical therapist about your treatment response and pain tolerance. Let them know if you have worsening symptoms, severe pain, or difficulties during and after a session.

Your physical therapist can make the appropriate modifications to your treatment plan. They may use different techniques or reduce the frequency and intensity of your sessions.

Exercising has lots of benefits for arthritis as long as you do it safely. Before beginning an exercise program for arthritis, consult your doctor or physical therapist. They can recommend appropriate exercises and suggest modifications.

  • Make sure to stretch. Do a warmup before each session and end with a cooldown. Stretch all major muscle groups before working out, especially those joints that are prone to pain and stiffness.
  • Take it slow. Start with short workouts, build up gradually, and work within your limits. Listen to your body, especially if you’re having a flare-up, and take as many breaks as necessary. Allow yourself plenty of rest days in between workouts.
  • Do low impact exercises. These activities reduce stress or pressure on the joints. They include swimming, aquatic therapy, and gardening. You can also include exercises to increase strength, balance, and flexibility. Avoid exercises that cause severe pain or worsen your symptoms, including swelling, pain, or stiffness.

Most insurance plans cover part of the costs of physical therapy if it is considered medically necessary. There may be a limit to how many visits your insurance covers.

If a doctor considers PT medically necessary to treat arthritis, Medicare will cover all or part of the costs.

Medicare Part A will pay all or some of the costs of physical therapy treatments that occur at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, such as a hospital, rehabilitation center, or mental health facility, according to AARP.

For outpatient treatment, Medicare Part B will pay the remaining 80 percent of treatment costs once you meet your yearly Part B deductible.

Living with arthritis pain

Arthritis is a chronic condition that can affect your physical health, mental well-being, and quality of life. It’s important to take care of your mental health because adults with arthritis often have anxiety and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Talk with your doctor or physical therapist to find out if there are any in-person support groups in your area.

Here are a few mental health resources and support groups:

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Physical therapy can have a positive impact on arthritis symptoms, help you to move better, and improve your overall well-being. For best results, keep up with your daily activities and exercises as much as possible.

Keep a record of which treatments are most effective. Check in regularly with your physical therapist to discuss your progress and any changes to your condition.

Reach out to a healthcare professional if your symptoms worsen or become severe.