If My Arthritis is Not Reversible, Why Should I See a Physical Therapist?

by Sarah Clough | 13 Comments

As a physical therapist I often hear people make the statement “My knee hurts today, but it always does; I have arthritis” or “Physical therapy can’t help me because my pain is from arthritis.” Once a joint is showing arthritic changes or degeneration, it’s true that degeneration will not reverse. However, research is showing more and more how physical therapy can often make changes in the pain you experience from a joint that is diagnosed with arthritis. Isn’t that great news?!

The Research

  1. man massaging knee pain_2One study1 compared patients with knee osteoarthritis who were treated in therapy with both manual techniques (stretching and knee mobilizations) and with exercises versus people who just did exercises at home. The patients who went to therapy had twice the pain relief and improvement of function compared to the people who did exercises on their own. This relief lasted when they were rechecked a year later!
  2. Another study2 compared patients with hip osteoarthritis who were all treated by physical therapists. Half of the patients received manual therapy (stretching and mobilizations techniques to the hip) and half did exercises for the hip only. The patients who had their therapists performing manual therapy on them showed better improvements with pain, stiffness, motion, and function compared to those with exercises only. The improvements with the manual therapy group were still better 29 weeks later when rechecked!

The Techniques

The research discussed above showed that a physical therapist performing manual techniques was extremely beneficial for the patients when it came to pain reduction and ability to perform daily tasks. The manual techniques involve the therapist using their own hands to help stretch the patient and move the joints in a way that assists in creating more motion and function at the joint. Therefore, it is important to have these manual techniques performed, if deemed appropriate by your therapist, to obtain the highest level of pain relief and function.

Who Can Benefit

Another study3 discovered that it didn’t matter what level or severity of hip function, pain, or amount of motion a patient with arthritis in the hip had. The patients who had manual therapy performed by the physical therapist still did better than those who performed exercises only.

Take Home Message

Although people at times will have arthritis to the point that they need a hip replacement or a knee replacement, physical therapy is definitely worth a try first!  Physical therapy is shown in research to improve hip and knee pain when diagnosed with osteoarthritis and improve overall function.  In addition, improvements can last quite some time!

Remember: “You don’t stop moving because you get old.  You get old because you stop moving!” (Variation of George Bernard Shaw quote)

Athletico is a proud partner of the Arthritis Foundation. For more arthritis tips, including prevention and management, visit www.arthritis.org.

Learn more about how physical therapy can help with arthritis by scheduling an appointment at an Athletico Physical Therapy clinic near you.

Request an Appointment Today

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Deyle GD, Allison SC, Matekel RL, et al. Physical therapy treatment effectiveness for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized comparison of supervised clinical exercise and manual therapy procedures versus a home exercise program. Phys Ther. 2005 Dec;85(12):1301-17.
 
2. Hoeksma HL, Dekker J, Ronday HK, et al. Comparison of Manual Therapy and Exercise Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Hip: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2004:51: 722-729.
 
3. Hoeksma HL, Dekker J, Ronday HK, et al. Manual therapy in osteoarthritis of the hip: outcome in subgroups of patients. Rheumatology 2005.
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13 Comments

  1. Sue

    Thank you Sarah! I believe my AthletiCo PT does help me tremendously with my arthritis.

  2. Sarah Clough

    Hi Sue!! Thanks for reading the blog! I am so glad that you feel the therapy helps with the arthritis! Thanks for leaving a response!=)

  3. Norma Yera

    I’m gonna look into this.I have osteoarthritis in my right knee.If therapy can provide some sort of relief…it would be soooo great! Thank you!!!!

  4. Tom Nee

    I am living proof that physical therapy from Athletico helps me live a more active and normal life. And Brian Bartelli is the best PT that Athletico has to offer. Arthritis is a terrible thing to live with, but a yearly session with Brian helps me tremendously. His manual therapy and excercise therapy keep me going. Keep on Brian, Keep on Athletico.

  5. Kirsten Woods

    Hi! I had OA and have tried physical therapy. I am not sure if it was just my therapist or the treatment that she gave me but it didn’t do any good to my knees, which made me undergo stem cell therapy. I was scheduled by my orthopedic surgeon, Dr Purita, for stem cell treatment several years ago and it was successful. I don’t feel pain anymore despite of my increased running goal.

  6. Sarah Clough

    Hi Kristen! Thank you for sharing your story and your link to your own blog! I am happy to hear that you obtained relief with the stem cell treatment! Sounds like your relief has been successful for years now and you are still running….that’s awesome! Sometimes people need another resource such as this treatment avenue to get better, depending on various factors. Sharing your story and way you obtained relief can definately help others in need! Thanks for posting!

  7. Sarah Clough

    Hi Tom!

    Thanks for your post! I love hearing Athletico success stories! I am happy to hear that therapy provides you with some relief! Brian is a great therapist. I referred him a friend of mine to treat because I also know of his awesome manual skills. Thanks again for your comment and enjoy the start of summer!=)

  8. Sarah Clough

    Hi Norma!

    Therapy is definately worth a try when it comes to arthritis! Here is a link to our locations so you can find a clinic close to home if you live around the Chicagoland area: http://www.athletico.com/locations/

    Thank you for your post and I hope you find some relief with physical therapy!

  9. Anne Wright

    I have bone on bone in both knees, due to injuries and surgery from a skiing accident 42 years ago. I was told by one orthopeadic surgeon I need two new knees. A year later, a different O. Surgeon looked at my newer x rays and said they haven’t changed much in a year, and suggested physical therapy. How can physical therapy help bone on bone feel better? It’s been years with arthritis. Who do I believe? Plus, I’ve lost 25 pounds and still have pain.

  10. Sarah Clough

    Hi Anne!

    Excellent question! Physical therapy for knee osteoarthritis won’t change the degeneration and bone on bone position of the knee. However, the degeneration in the knee is thought to result in surrounding problems at the knee and perhaps hip or ankle that increase or create symptoms. Manual therapy seeks to find where these restrictions may be and address them. For instance, many people who have knee osteoarthritis have stiffness with bending or straightening the knee, stiffness at the knee cap, tightness at the hip, ankle, and surrounding knee musculature. When a joint is bone on bone, it just isn’t going to move as well. Therapists have a bunch of mobilizations, massage techniques, and stretches that may assist in addressing these movement issues that may create more symptoms. In addition to the manual therapy, building up the strength in the muscles around the joint can help support the joint, allowing more impact to be absorbed by the muscles when on foot instead of at the problematic joint. Strengthening exercises can help the surrounding knee muscles work as well as the can together to help do their job, protecting and supporting the knee joint.

    Here are some things to take into consideration: I was once shadowing an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in total joint replacements. His patient’s would ask him if they really needed a knee replacement. His response was “You will tell me when you need a knee replacement”. I thought this was wise advice. When you feel that the pain limits your everyday life function and reduces your ability to live life in the way that you would like to, then it may be time to consider surgery. However, I recommend to many people to try therapy first. Therapy is definitely worth a try and supported by the research in helping this condition. Therapy may assist in giving you more time before you have to go in for the surgery as well. Each person is different in how they present with knee function, and therapy is individualized to each patient. Therefore, if you are questioning if physical therapy is for you, I would recommend heading to your nearest Athletico for a complimentary screen. During the screening, a physical therapist or athletic trainer can look at your knee, how it is functioning, and make their recommendation based on how your knee is specifically functioning. If you would like the name of a clinic or therapist near you, please let me know. I have had patients with a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis that did not get better with physical therapy and had to have surgery. They found peace in knowing that they tried everything they could before they went for surgery. I have also had a lot of patients do physical therapy and finish feeling a whole lot better and no longer heading the surgery route. I feel that if a physician suggested trying PT to you, than it is definitely worth a try!

    Thank you for the question!

  11. My Knee Stretches

    I am 27 years old, I have been in the military almost 7 years and am very active. I had knee pain on the front of my knee for over 2 years and after physical therapy I had an MRI. The MRI showed that I had a fat pad impingement. I had surgery a little over a month ago and the surgeon removed the entire fat pad. Every since I came off crutches I still felt the same pain I had from before the surgery and the swelling is still very bad.

  12. Sarah Clough

    To My Knee Stretches:

    First of all, thank you so much for your service in the military! I truly appreciate all you do! I am sorry to hear you are having pain. Did you have physical therapy after surgery? If not, I would recommend seeing a PT once cleared by your doctor. One month after a surgery such as this one is still soon to have complete pain relief, so the pain level may take more time to calm down. Also, swelling may take months after surgery to completely go away. If your pain and swelling is getting worse, call your doctor and let the doctor know. If you would like the name of a therapist near you for physical therapy, please let me know! I hope you feel better soon!

    Thank you,

    ~Sarah

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