If we live long enough, everyone’s going to come to terms with that dreaded word – arthritis.” – KCP physical therapist Joy Pfuhl

At a recent YMCA event on healthy aging, Joy addressed some of the changes that occur as we get older, along with strategies to manage (and thrive!) through them. She noted that, as people age, some of the biggest challenges that they face are wondering, “How do I work out hard without hurting? How do I know if I’m hurting and harming, or just hurting and sore?”

During the session, the topics of “good” pain and “bad” pain were addressed, along with many of the common conditions and problems that can arise with age – including osteoporosis and arthritis.

In an article titled, “How Can Physical Therapists Treat Osteoporosis,” we addressed the prevention of and treatment for this condition that involves a loss of bone density.

In this post, we’ll discuss what arthritis is, how it can be managed, and how physical therapy can help.

What is Arthritis?

“It’s a normal, degenerative process,” says Joy, “and it’s something we manage. I always tell people: If you are into your 50’s and 60’s, more than likely you’re going to have some level of arthritis, unless you’re just genetically predisposed and blessed. If we live long enough, we’re going to have some wear and tear on our bodies.”

That wear and tear includes swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain, stiffness, redness, swelling, and a decreased range in motion. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. They may come and go, stay the same for years, or progressively get worse over time.

Osteoarthritis -the most common type of arthritis – causes cartilage to break down. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the bones in the affected joints become weaker, the connective tissue that holds the joint together deteriorates, and inflammation damages the joint lining.

 Should I Exercise with Arthritis?

In a word, yes.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic says it’s “especially important for people with arthritis. Exercise increases strength and makes moving easier…When arthritis tries to slow you down, exercise can keep you moving!”

The CDC agrees. In an article geared towards health care providers, they suggest that doctors “urge” their arthritis patients to be moderately physically active for 150 minutes per week. They also suggest low-impact activities, senior fitness classes, and that patients become educated on how to manage their symptoms.

Physical Therapy for Arthritis

When starting a new exercise program or adapting it to help you manage your arthritis symptoms, a physical therapist can be an important member of your healthcare team.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends physical therapy as a part of your arthritis management plan, saying, “Physical therapy can help you get moving safely and effectively. Physical therapists are licensed professionals with graduate degrees and clinical experience who examine, diagnose, and treat to help prevent conditions that limit the body’s ability to move and function in daily life.”

Physical therapy for arthritis may include manual manipulation, exercise therapy to overcome muscle weaknesses, orthotic support, or coaching to improve your environment and body mechanics. Physical therapists can help you improve your posture, strengthen your muscles, improve your joint mobility and range of motion, reduce your pain, delay or avoid surgery, and adapt to injuries and pain. Most importantly, they can help you to continue to participate in the activities that you enjoy.

Just because you’re getting old doesn’t mean you have to hurt,” says Joy. “The good news is that we have a lot of control over how we age. As physical therapists, we can’t change what’s going on structurally, but we can change a lot of the symptoms.”

Request an appointment today to find out how KCP can help you manage your symptoms of arthritis.