Arthritis and Movement: How Physical Therapy Makes a Difference

Arthritis refers to pain, stiffness or swelling in one or more joints, which affects normal movement due to inflammation. It has affected millions globally, pushing them to slow down or keep their physical activities off limits. 

A report by the CDC on Disability and Health related Conditions mentioned that arthritis is the leading cause of disability among people in the U.S. Arthritis report by the CDC also claims that it affect around 58 million people worldwide, counting 24% of all adult in the United States, and is more prevalent in women than men. 

According to the Arthritis treatment research papers, there is no permanent cure apart from bone replacement surgery for the joint disease. Still, it is only advised when an individual has severe joint damage or is in the later stages of arthritis. For all those suffering from minor arthritis pain or are in the early arthritis stage, physical therapy is the only most effective cure to limit inflammation and pain and preserve joint function. 

A 2019 study reported that out of the eight systematic physical therapy reviews on the efficiency of non-drug arthritis treatment, arthritis physical exercise was the most effective option for reduced pain and symptoms and is claimed to be the most effective treatment for hip and knee osteoarthritis.  

Let’s get into the details of what arthritis is, how it is caused and how arthritis physical therapy exercise makes a difference in people suffering from joint pain! 

Understanding Arthritis 

Arthritis describes the pain, stiffness and swelling in one or more joints. A joint is where two bones meet in the human body, and the purpose of this joint is to keep bones in place and allow them to move within limits. 

Most of the joints in the human body are surrounded by a capsule filled with a thick fluid that lubricates the joint for free movement and keeps bones in place with the help of ligaments (like strong elastic bands). The ends of the bones in a joint are lined with cartilage, a tough and smooth tissue layer that allows bones to glide over each other as we move. 

When there is damage to ligament or cartilage, or the body produces less lubricant,  joint bones cause friction during movement, leading to pain, muscle weakness, redness and swelling,  common symptoms of arthritis. 

The 3 Most Common Types of Arthritis 


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis caused by the roughening of cartilage. When cartilage starts to damage, the body is put in the repair process, trying to make up for the loss, and during this process –

  • An extra tiny bit of bone grows at the bone end within a joint, 
  •  More than the desired amount of fluid is built inside the joint, 
  • The joint capsule stretched, leading to lost shape and damage. 

These changes develop very slowly and worsen over time, leading to severe pain, swelling, stiffness and decreased range of flexibility or motion. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

It is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It happens when the human body, during the auto-immune condition, affects healthy body cells by mistake, which further causes inflammation in the affected parts. RA commonly affects knees, hands and wrist joints, inflaming the joint linings and damaging the tissues, which can cause chronic pain, deformity and instability. Characteristics that further increase the risk of RA are age, sex, genetics, smoking and early life exposures. 

Calcium Crystal Diseases and Gout 

Gout is also an inflammatory arthritis type which causes joint swellings. It is caused by having too much uric acid in the body, which forms crystals in or around the joints. Having a fever or knocking part of the body leads to these crystals falling inside soft joints, causing pain and swelling. 

How does Arthritis Affect Daily Movement? 

People affected with joint stiffness, pain, swelling, damage to weight-bearing joints, and redness caused by arthritis have mobility issues, which makes it difficult for them to get up in the morning and affects their ability to perform daily tasks and movements. 

  • Climbing Stairs – Individuals with arthritis have problems climbing stairs due to a restricted range of flexibility and physical limitations caused by the ankle, foot, hip, knee and sometimes even back pain. Shifting weight to maneuver steps from one leg to another becomes painful. 
  • Walking – Reduced fluid and joint cushioning cause bones to hit, leading to stiffness, pain and difficulty walking. 
  • Bending – With arthritis, the degree of bending, stooping and kneeling is also affected due to a decreased range of flexibility. 
  • Gripping of the Fingers – Due to pain in the hand, ankle or shoulder joints, gripping also becomes challenging for individuals with arthritis. 

Furthermore, arthritis can lead to weakened muscles around affected joints and fatigue due to persistent tiredness. 

Physical Therapy for Arthritis 

Physical therapy is one of the most promising treatments for arthritis, as it helps manage the symptoms, improve physical functioning, and increase mobility, making it easier to perform everyday movements and negate the need for surgery. The physical therapy session is usually 50-60 minutes, where certified physical therapists help with different physical therapies to improve joint mobility. The therapist also shares tips on moving and maintaining proper posture to avoid injuries or further damage. 

Types of Physical Therapy for Arthritis

There are multiple types of physical therapy for arthritis. The type of therapy a person demands depends on the type of arthritis, location, and overall health. 

  • Exercise Therapy – 

Tailored exercise therapy improves your range of motion, bolsters supporting muscles, reduces pain and inflammation and boosts overall function. Sit and stand, stretching, and kickbacks are the best exercise for arthritic knees.  Clams or leg lifts for hips, shoulder rolls, neck mobility, or shoulder mobility for the neck are some options to help with arthritis pain relief in other affected areas. 

  • Aquatic Therapy – 

As the name suggests, strengthening exercises, aerobics and stretching are performed inside water (with temperatures ranging between 91-98°F). Hydrostatic pressure is created inside water, which reduces bone inflammation and helps relieve pain. Aquatic therapy is recommended for osteoarthritis, cervical pain, and low back pain patients. Unlike most physical therapy clinics, Total Performance physical therapy offers aquatic therapy in their private heated pools. Private meaning that only one patient and their therapist is permitted in the pool at any given time. Total Performance’s private pools are heated to 98°F  which is a real game changer for those looking to reap the benefits of heat and water therapy.

  • Manual Therapy – 

A skilled therapist provides hands-on massage to the affected area during manual massage therapy, aiming to reduce pain and muscle stiffness. The skilled hand movement mobilizes the body tissues, making it one of the effective options for treating knee osteoarthritis. 

  • Thermotherapy (Hot or Cold Therapy) – 

Thermotherapy uses heat or ice as a therapeutic intervention to relax muscular tension, reduce inflammation, and enhance proper blood flow.  There are advanced machines that increase(heat) and decrease(cool) the temperature of skin/tissues, thus enabling proper blood flow, resulting in reduced pain and inflammation. Hot therapy is effective for chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) stages and cold packs for acute conditions. This therapy can be done twice a day for around 15-30 days, for 10-20 minutes. 

Role of Expert Physical Therapists 

Physical Therapists perform a physical assessment  before providing physical therapy for arthritis. Assessing body movements and postures helps the therapist choose the type of physical therapy that brings positive results. If your joint pain discourages you from performing the daily routines, request an appointment with Total Performance Physical Therapy. Our services are available in Norristown, North Wales, East Norriton, Harleysville, or Hatfield, PA. Our qualified professional therapist helps you alleviate the pain with the different physical therapies and  also brings the differences, including 

  • Strengthen Muscles and Improve Joint Mobility – People with arthritis have weakened muscles around the affected joint, making it a more vulnerable body section. Our physical therapist can help strengthen the joints and muscles, improving mobility and general strength and making a difference in your sedentary lifestyle. 
  • Reduce Pain – Our physical therapist uses the latest modalities like Kinesio taping, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and heat/cold therapy. These effective and long-lasting treatments reduce muscle spasms, improve blood circulation, and decrease pain.
  • Improve Balance – The therapist will also help resolve the deformity issue developed due to arthritis by helping you form proper posture while sitting, walking, sleeping and exercising. This will help with improved balance and reduced risk of falling.
  • Work-Around Injuries Individuals affected with arthritis often worsen the situation by moving in postures which stress the weakened muscle, thereby leading to increased chances of pain and injuries. Physical therapist sessions with experts can help individuals develop a customized set of exercises to help strengthen the muscles in targeted areas as well as advise on specific postures and movements to reduce pain. 

While all the physical therapy options seem easy DIY techniques, expert physical therapist supervision is strictly advised. With the support of dedicated physical therapists, your journey to managing arthritis and enhancing your mobility begins now.

Final Takeaway – 

Arthritis causes consistent pain, stiffness, and inflammation, which can disrupt our daily lives.  Much research has been done that validates physical therapy as an effective treatment for restricted movement because of Arthritis. 

Physical therapy for arthritis is, therefore, a transformational journey towards improved mobility and an enhanced quality of life.  With tailored exercises, hands-on therapy, modalities like heat and ice, and empowering education, physical therapists are more than healthcare professionals; they’re your partners in regaining control over your body and mind. 

Connect with expert physical therapists now to get back to your normal routine! 


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