By Megan Hemmingsen, PT, DPT, Cert. MDT, LSVT-Big
Osteoarthritis is a slow, progressive breakdown of joint structures that can significantly impact mobility, function, and independence. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammatory joint symptoms. Physical therapy for both OA and RA is to regain/maintain range of motion, reduce pain, and improve function.
Osteoarthritis (OA), also commonly referred to as degenerative joint disease, affects many individuals. OA is a slow, progressive breakdown of joint structures that can significantly impact mobility, function, and independence. OA typically affects weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. Many individuals will complain of limited range of motion, morning stiffness (short duration), and crackling or popping. Pain is often reported as a deep ache which is worse with activity and better with rest. A common misconception regarding activity level and OA is that increased activity or exercise will increase the risk of OA. A healthy lifestyle is essential in the prevention and treatment of OA. Those at highest risk for OA participate in high-impact sports, especially those involving contact with other players (i.e. football, soccer, and hockey).1
Another form of arthritis that many suffer from is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). This form of arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammatory joint symptoms. Often RA attacks both sides at the same time whereas OA affects one side. While OA affects weight-bearing joints, RA can impact any joint but often involves the wrist, knee, and fingers of the hand. RA is generally diagnosed with laboratory tests such as the presence of the Rheumatoid factor. Other symptoms of RA include constitutional symptoms (fever, weight loss, and fatigue), marked morning stiffness that lasts >1 hour, finger deformities, and/or rheumatoid nodules which are firm, raised, and are often not tender to touch.2 They can be found along the elbows, fingers, or heels.
There are many treatments available for both OA and RA. OA can be treated with education on healthy lifestyles, physical therapy, orthotics/braces, and medications. Movement is often encouraged with OA to limit symptom worsening and improve stiffness. In severe cases, OA can be treated with surgical approaches (total joint replacements). RA can be treated with medication and/or physical therapy. In some cases, surgery is indicated for individuals with RA. The goals of physical therapy for both OA and RA are to regain/maintain range of motion, reduce pain, and improve function.
Individuals with OA and RA respond well to the following techniques in physical therapy:
• Soft Tissue Mobilizations
• Joint Mobilizations
• Therapeutic Exercise
• Therapeutic Activity
• Modalities (TENS, ultrasound, paraffin, etc.)
There may not be a cure for OA or RA, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in pain! Call your physician and/or physical therapist and seek care for your symptoms. Search our website for more information on our location and services.