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Types of Arthritis and Managing Your Symptoms

Types of Arthritis and Managing Your Symptoms

One of the most common conditions a physical therapist treats on a daily basis is arthritis. It is normal as we age that the joints and muscles begin to wear down from everyday use, which can lead to the development of arthritis. There is no cure for arthritis but physical therapy can help you manage the symptoms. So what exactly do you need to know about how to manage arthritis? Well here are a few facts that you may find helpful.

Arthritis 2

A quick anatomy lesson:

The skeletal system is made up of all the bones in the body. Joints are the point where a bone connects to another bone, allowing for movement. Between each of those joint surfaces is cartilage, which provides cushioning and protection against the movement occurring in the joint.

So what happens to the joints as we get older?

As we all age, bones and muscles begin to break down. In addition, the cartilage in the joints also begins to break down from years of wear and tear.  It is most common to see arthritis develop in weight bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. About 80% of the population begins to show some type of degeneration in the joints by age 60, however not all people will develop symptoms.

The 2 most common types of Arthritis:

  1. Osteoarthritis (OA)

This is the most common type of arthritis, and occurs when the cartilage between the joints begins to break down so that the bones rub against each other. This extra friction causes inflammation and pain, which can eventually lead to reduced mobility.


  • Gradual onset of pain and stiffness in joints
  • Increased stiffness after period of rest that goes away with movement
  • Pain is worse in the morning and by the end of the day, and gets better with rest
  • May make it difficult to perform daily tasks such as walking or going up and down stairs
  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

RA is an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system attacks the healthy cells in joints causing them to break down and become fluid filled and painful.


  • General body fatigue, pain and muscle weakness
  • Warm and swollen joints, typically on both sides of the body
  • Increased stiffness after a period of rest
  • Joint deformity
  • The symptoms of RA commonly flare up then go into periods of remission

How Physical Therapy Can Help you Regain Your Life Back!

There is no cure for either OA or RA, therefore it is important you learn how to manage living with this disease. Step one is the most important: EDUCATE YOURSELF! There are a variety of ways you can learn to modify your lifestyle to help you deal with these changes, and learning what these things are will greatly reduce your chances of the pain becoming worse. A physical therapist is the ideal health care professional to help educate you on the changes that your body will undergo and how to regain the lifestyle you want to live.

The second most important thing you can do to manage arthritis: EXERCISE! Many people believe that exercising will make their pain worse, when in reality staying active is a crucial part of reversing the effects of arthritis. Although the joint surface itself cannot be repaired, exercising the muscles around the joint will help minimize stress and stiffness. Physical Therapists are professionally trained in prescribing exercise plans that best fit your needs. In physical therapy you will learn how to safely progress exercise to help maintain and build strength, but not cause more damage to your joints. The overall goal of therapy is to help you stay active doing the things you love with the least amount of pain possible!

What is a joint replacement?

Occasionally, as arthritis progresses, it becomes so painful that it significantly reduces mobility and quality of life. At this point, a total joint replacement becomes a viable option for reducing pain and increasing ease of daily life. This option is something that should be thoroughly discussed with your health care providers, including your physical therapist, before you make the decision to have surgery.

If this is decided to be the best option for you, physical therapy is still an important piece of the puzzle both before and after surgery. Physical therapy will help ensure that you build as much strength and flexibility as possible in order to eventually return to doing all the things that are important to you!

A Few Exercise Guidelines (please note you should not begin an exercise program before consulting with a health care professional):

  • Exercise is most effective when done in a pain free range
  • Should be a low to moderate intensity as to not increase pain
  • Performed 3-4x/wk for at least 20-30 minutes
  • Always include a warm up and cool down
  • If pain/soreness does occur, it should not last more than 1 hour after exercise. If it does, you should decrease the intensity the next time you exercise.
  • Examples of effective types of exercise include low intensity cardio and weight training, yoga, tai chi, and aquatic exercise

To learn more about the different types of arthritis and tips for managing your symptoms, call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center  at 703-450-4300 to speak with our expert Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants.

“Don’t let pain limit you. We Care. We Listen. We Get RESULTS!”