Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis

Physical therapist-guided exercises are best for patients with knee arthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition in which cartilage—the natural cushioning between joints—gradually wears away. Over time, this causes the bones of these joints to rub more closely against one another and leads to symptoms like pain, stiffness, swelling, and a decreased ability to move the joint normally.

OA is the most common form of arthritis, and although it can occur in any joint in the body, it’s seen most often in the knees. Knee OA can also occur at any age, but the risk for developing it increases with older age because the body gradually loses its ability to heal the damaged cartilage. This is why about 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60 have knee OA. Being obese or overweight also increases the chances of developing knee OA, since the additional weight puts added pressure on the knees and accelerates the damage to cartilage.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for knee OA, but treatments like physical therapy are strongly recommended to reduce patients’ symptoms and help them function better in their everyday lives as a result. Physical therapy treatment programs typically consist of a number of components, such as education, manual (hands-on) therapy, and pain-relieving interventions like heat/ice and ultrasound, but the most important part of treatment is structured exercises.

Since the muscles of the leg affected by knee OA tend to become weaker and less flexible due to symptoms, a specific set of exercises are needed to target these areas. In particular, stretching and strengthening exercises should be performed for muscles of the calves, hips, and those in the front of the thigh (quadriceps) and the back of the thigh (hamstrings). Completing these exercises will help to better support and stabilize the knee, reduce stiffness, and increase fitness levels, which will allow patients to do more and improve their quality of life in the process.

For these reasons, doctors like general practitioners should be referring patients with knee OA to physical therapy for an appropriate treatment program, which research has shown to be a beneficial approach. But according to a recent study, this is not always the case. The study examined the attitudes and beliefs of 5,000 general practitioners regarding the use of exercise for knee OA patients, and it concluded with the following:

While general practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs regarding exercise for knee OA were generally positive, initiation of exercise was often poorly aligned with current recommendations, and barriers and uncertainties were reported.

These results suggest that although most doctors regard exercise and physical therapy in a positive light, many of them are not referring patients to receive these treatments. The reasons for this are not clear but may be related opioids and other treatments being prescribed, which can actually serve as a barrier to knee OA patients’ road to recovery. This is why individuals who are currently dealing with knee OA should see a physical therapist first, as doing so will lead to a faster start to treatments that are intended to help them improve, without delays or obstacles to their care.

Arthritis Specialist in Visalia – Why Choose Conservative Care First?

If you have a joint problem, you may be looking for an arthritis specialist in Visalia.  If so, chances are we can help and you should try conservative care first.

Any form of arthritis can be a serious burden for those who suffer from it.  People with arthritis usually have stiff joints and avoid movements that increase pain.  While this avoidance may sound like the most logical way to cope with the pain, it actually makes matters worse.

By not moving arthritic joints, the pain and stiffness only grow more intense, which can lead to a vicious and painful cycle over time.  Unfortunately, many people living with arthritis struggle to maintain physical well being due to the fear of pain, with one study suggesting that 37% of all arthritis patients are classified as inactive.

Since there is no cure for arthritis, the focus of treatment is instead on disease management.  In addition to regular physical activity, there has been a significant amount of recent research to support the use of physical therapy as an effective way to manage the condition.  Physical therapy can help by teaching patients with arthritis and stiffness how to move without further damaging joints, with the goal of being able to perform and maintain normal everyday activities without difficulty.

The primary goal of physical therapy is to increase range of motion (ROM) by a series of careful strategies that are individualized for each patient depending on their needs and abilities.  Most importantly, physical therapy has been found to be beneficial for all patients with arthritis, regardless of their age or the type of arthritis they have, whether that’s rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), or one of its many other forms.

Treatment plans for arthritis will vary from patient to patient, but most will consist of the following:

  • The physical therapist will work with you to identify activities that are most painful and create solutions such as prescribing assistive devices for daily living
  • Improve your body mechanics—how your body moves—and posture, which may often lead to pain if not done properly
  • The therapist will likely perform manual techniques that will stretch and move joints in such a way that will lead to more overall ROM
  • An aerobic exercise program—with your limitations in mind—may also be prescribed, which will increase flexibility and strengthen bones

To highlight just how effective physical therapy can be for arthritis, a powerful review analyzed the findings of 17 studies, all of which evaluated the use of strength exercise—also known as resistance exercise—on patients with knee OA.  The conclusion states:

Resistance exercise is beneficial in terms of reducing pain, alleviating stiffness, and improving physical function in patients with knee OA.

Resistance exercises are one of the many interventions used by physical therapists for these patients, as they can help build back weak muscles to improve functionality.

So if you are dealing with arthritis and feel that it’s holding you back from living your life, we strongly recommend seeing one of our physical therapist first and fast.  They have considerable experience dealing with arthritic joint conditions.

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