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Treating Your Arthritis with Physical Therapy

Arthritis is a household term most people know, but until it affected you, you may not have bothered to look into it. Now that your joints are feeling the effects, you want to know all you can about why you got it, how to slow down its progression, and most importantly, how to stop the pain and stiffness. 

Dr. Dinash Yanamadula and our Princeton Pain and Spine Institute team specialize in relieving pain from multiple sources, including arthritis. Here, Dr. Christina Savela — our experienced physical therapist — highlights the power of physical therapy, a deceivingly simple approach to a complex problem that really works. 

Arthritis 101

Arthritis is an umbrella term for over 100 types of joint inflammation that affect one or multiple joints — the most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

Although each type has unique characteristics, nearly all arthritis types involve joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion.

We know how debilitating arthritis can be, and how physical therapy (PT) can provide amazing relief. Here’s how:

Range-of-motion exercises

Range-of-motion exercises are the cornerstone of physical therapy for arthritis. When arthritis strikes, it inflames your joints, leading to stiffness and discomfort. It's this stiffness that restricts movement and makes everyday tasks challenging. Range-of-motion exercises gently stretch your joints and muscles, promoting flexibility and ease of movement.

Imagine your joints are like the hinges on a door. If you don’t open and close the door regularly, the hinges can get stiff, making it difficult to move the door. But with regular use, the door swings freely. Similarly, your joints need regular movement to keep them fluid and flexible.

Our PTs use exercises that move your joints through their natural range of motion, like bending your knees or rotating your wrists. The movements are slow and controlled, avoiding any sudden jerks or strains. They can be as simple as raising your arms above your head or rolling your shoulders.

We tailor your exercises to suit your needs and capabilities and develop a personalized program that targets your specific problem areas and respects your limits.

Strength training

Strength training helps build muscle, which in turn supports and protects your joints, reducing the strain on them. But that's just the start. Strength training also offers several other benefits that can make living with arthritis a bit easier.

When we talk about strength training, we're referring to exercises that use resistance to work your muscles. Your workout can involve lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. The goal is to gradually increase the resistance over time, which helps your muscles grow stronger.

Here's why strength training is so beneficial for arthritis:

Reduces pain

Strengthening the muscles around your joints alleviates arthritis pain because the muscles act as a sort of protective cushion, absorbing some of the forces that would otherwise impact your joints. 

Improves mobility

Stronger muscles make it easier to perform everyday tasks, from opening a jar to climbing stairs, which boosts your independence and makes daily life less challenging.

Enhances balance

Strength training isn't just about building muscle; it also helps improve your balance, which is particularly important if you have arthritis, as you may have an increased risk of falls due to joint instability.

Boosts mood

Exercise, including strength training, releases endorphins, your body's natural mood boosters, known for combatting the depression and anxiety that often accompany chronic conditions like arthritis.

Promotes healthier weight

Carrying extra weight puts additional pressure on your joints, exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Strength training helps you maintain a healthier weight, easing the load on your joints and reducing pain.

Manual therapy

Manual therapy involves hands-on techniques to improve movement and reduce pain — a perfect combination for arthritis sufferers. Manual therapy is a broad term that encompasses various techniques, including joint mobilization and soft tissue mobilization. Here’s how they work.

Joint mobilization

Joint mobilization involves gently moving your arthritic joint in a specific direction to reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and increase the range of motion. It also stimulates the production of synovial fluid, a substance that lubricates your joints and reduces friction.

Soft tissue mobilization

Soft tissue mobilization focuses on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding your joints. This technique involves rhythmic stretching and deep pressure to break up fibrous muscle tissue, especially where adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) or scar tissue may exist. Soft tissue mobilization reduces pain, decreases swelling, improves circulation, and enhances movement.

Manual therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We understand the pain and discomfort you're experiencing, and we customize each technique to your needs and incorporate it as part of your comprehensive arthritis management plan. 

Come discover how physical therapy can resolve your arthritis pain and have you moving freely again. Call Princeton Pain and Spine Institute in Lawrenceville or Edgewater, New Jersey, or book online.

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