Physiotherapy plays an important role in self-management of arthritis. As there is no cure, the aim of treatment is to manage pain, keep joints mobile and help people stay active and healthy by developing safe, personalised exercise programs. They can also help by providing joint protection advice.
Physical activity and exercise is the best treatment regardless of how severe arthritis is. Some people successfully manage their arthritis with exercise alone, avoiding the need for surgery. Exercise is also vital for preventing or managing other chronic health conditions.
Below are some different types of exercise a physiotherapist can prescribe:
Strengthening exercise involves using weights, resistance bands, or body weight to increase muscle strength. Stronger muscles help support and protect joints making it easier to stay mobile and active.
Flexibility exercise involves stretches and gently moving the joint to reduce stiffness.
Aerobic exercise is any exercise that increases your heart rate and maintains general fitness and heart health.
Hydrotherapy is strengthening, aerobic and flexibility exercises completed in a pool, which is often heated. It can be beneficial because water supports the weight of your body, reducing the impact on your joints. Water can also provide greater resistance, further strengthening your muscles.
How can I start exercising?
When starting regular exercise it can be hard to know what to do, what level to start at and how to stay motivated. Fitness levels and symptoms vary from person to person so it’s important to be guided by your physiotherapist to make sure the exercise is tailored to you. It is essential to start slow and increase gradually as fitness and strength improves. To see the benefits, exercise must be completed regularly and incorporated it into your daily routine.
Exercise and pain
Many people avoid using their painful joints for fear of making their arthritis worse, but this will not happen. When we don’t move joints they become stiffer and the muscles less supportive. Over time, without regular exercise your joints can become more painful. As many people with arthritis experience joint pain constantly, exercising when in pain is unavoidable but with regular exercise pain can reduce over time. As a guide, tolerable pain before or during exercise is common, expected and most often harmless. Pain that is un-tolerable or beyond a person’s normal level indicates exercise should be reduced.
Joint protection advice and pain relieving strategies
A physiotherapist will provide advice on techniques to reduce pain like using hot or cold packs, selecting appropriate footwear or using a walking stick or hand splint. They can also provide guidance on how to pace activities to limit pain flares and recommend ways to do things without causing strain to the joints.