At the age of 78, Anne figured she could expect the aches and pains that usually are present at her age. Yet, in recent months, she was finding it increasingly difficult to get out of bed most mornings and virtually impossible to take the stairs from her third floor apartment. As a result, she rarely left her home to visit friends or run errands. Gregarious and outgoing by nature, she had become a virtual shut-in.
Her doctor brought up the idea of knee replacement surgery, which Anne told him she wanted to avoid for as long as possible. He then encouraged her to try physical therapy.
Treating arthritis with physical and occupational therapy is not new. Unfortunately, many patients don’t know this and either live with the pain, dysfunction and deformity of arthritis. Or they end up having joint replacement surgery, which should be viewed as a last resort.
Physical therapy can teach you how to avoid improper body mechanics, and improve your strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility. It doesn’t treat your arthritis per sé, but rather focuses on the disease management by reducing pain and improving functional ability. This may include using customized exercises and therapeutic pain modalities (such as electrical stimulation, heat, ice and manual therapy), reviewing your medications, and exploring the benefits of assistive devices.
Arthritis sufferers typically have stiff joints, and avoid movements for fear it will increase their pain. And yet, it’s by becoming sedentary and using improper body mechanics that your pain gets worse.
This may mean starting on exercises that will work out the stiffness without further damaging the joint. You may benefit from riding a stationary bike or doing aquatic therapy which puts less pressure on your joints. Exercises are based on your limitations and as your tolerance grows the physical therapist may add weights or work on your balance.
With occupational therapy, therapists can teach you how to reduce strain on your joints during daily activities. This may mean getting you to use your strongest joints and muscles to reduce the stress on smaller joints (for example, carrying a pocketbook with a shoulder strap rather than by hand). Or it may mean modifying your home to reduce motions that aggravate the arthritis, creating splints for inflamed hands or wrists, and recommending assistive devices for such tasks as driving, bathing, dressing, and housekeeping. An example would be placing a bath stool in the shower, adding grab bars around the toilet, or using long-handled shoehorns or sock grippers.
You may also be counseled on eating better and healthier to avoid putting extra stress on weight-bearing joints like the back, hips, knees and feet.
The pain of arthritis is not fun for anyone, but with the help of physical and occupational therapy, you may be able to alleviate some of the pain. If you think physical therapy is something you could benefit from, don’t hesitate to ask your Angel nurse about the best steps for setting up your first appointment.