It’s normal for your body to feel achy and stiff following a tough workout or an afternoon of intense yard work; after all, overworked muscles tend to be sensitive and inflexible until they recover. But if normal physical activities — or even long stretches of inactivity — leave your joints feeling swollen, rigid, and sore, you may be experiencing the effects of arthritis.
Arthritis is a general term used to describe more than 100 different inflammatory conditions that impact the joints and their surrounding tissues. While approximately 54 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of the disease, it’s estimated that 24 million of these men and women are affected by arthritis-related mobility issues.
If you’re living with arthritis-related joint pain, you know firsthand just how much it can limit your mobility and turn the simplest tasks into a major challenge. But whether your condition makes it harder for you to climb the stairs, go for a long walk, or even type a simple email, it’s vital to keep your body — and your joints — moving.
That’s because regular movement is one of the best ways to promote natural joint lubrication, alleviate chronic inflammation, reduce pain, and increase range of motion. Let’s explore how physical therapy can improve your arthritis symptoms so you can move through your day with ease.
Given that the vast majority of arthritis activity and impact occurs in the joints, it makes sense that most types of arthritis cause some degree of persistent joint inflammation. An arthritis flare-up can make the affected joint feel swollen, stiff, warm, or tender; it can also lead to symptoms like fever and weakness.
Although arthritis symptoms vary in type and severity — from person to person as well as from day to day — chronic joint pain is a common complaint. For some, arthritis-related pain only affects one or two joints. For others, the problem impacts virtually every joint in their bodies.
Osteoarthritis, which is also called degenerative joint disease, is by far the most common form of the condition. It occurs when the smooth cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones progressively breaks down, causing irregular motion within the joint, and in some cases, the development of painful bone spurs.
Initially, osteoarthritis may simply make any affected joints feel stiff or achy. As the condition progresses, it can cause pain that restricts joint mobility and makes everyday tasks more uncomfortable or even impossible.
Although it’s only instinctive to want to rest or protect stiff, painful joints, a lack of activity only serves to weaken the surrounding muscles and exacerbate the problem. In fact, when arthritic joints are inactive, they’re more likely to become increasingly stiff or even frozen.
No matter what type of arthritis you have, physical therapy can improve your symptoms and increase your mobility. By some estimates, simply engaging in the right type of physical activity is all it takes to reduce arthritis pain and improve overall joint function by about 40%.
That’s because physical therapy isn’t simply movement for the sake of moving. Instead, it’s a comprehensive program of targeted exercises designed to decrease joint inflammation, strengthen and stabilize the surrounding muscles, and restore optimal range of motion.
The main goal of physical therapy is to improve or fully restore strength and functionality with simple therapeutic exercises that don’t take too much time to execute or cause undue stress or strain to your joints.
Although a well-planned program can help you achieve normal joint function, strength, and range of motion, it’s important to start slowly. You should learn how to listen to your body, progress gradually, and never push yourself to the point of discomfort or pain.
Once your arthritis symptoms are under control and your range of motion and mobility have improved, advanced physical therapy, or rehabilitation, can help you make your joint even more stable.
A well-balanced joint rehabilitation program combines strength, endurance, and flexibility training with targeted balance and coordination exercises to help you fine-tune the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the affected joint.
Besides addressing any balance or coordination issues you may have developed when your joint was weaker, this type of therapy can also help you restore — and maintain — optimal joint control.
Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis or you’ve been living with unexplained joint pain for too long, the team at Empire Physical Therapy & Athletic Rehabilitation can help. Call our office in Midtown East, New York City, or use the convenient online scheduling tool to make an appointment.