Physical therapy: can it help arthritis?

Hip Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition that has the potential to hinder a person’s quality of life and prevent a person from performing activities they once loved.  Hip OA is largely a degenerative condition which is usually a result from repetitive forces on the hip.  Over a long period of time these forces wear down the tissue within the hip joint.  This tissue is called cartilage and its purpose is to cushion and protect the joint.  As the tissue or cartilage is slowly eroded away small bone spurs can form.  After the cartilage is fully eroded bone to bone contact will occur and this may result in pain while performing functional activities such as squatting, ascending or descending stairs or while running.  The pain is usually but not always worse in the morning and there may be noticeable painful clicking when performing activity.  The severity of symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.

There are several risk factors for developing hip OA.  As we age we are more likely to develop all types of arthritis.  Also there are genetic factors that make certain people more prone to developing arthritis.  People who sustain trauma to the joint or have surgery on the joint are more likely to develop arthritis.  Obesity also increases the risk of developing hip OA.  If a person’s occupation involves repetitive movement involving the hip this may also increase the likelihood of developing hip OA.

Approximately 11% of adults 35 or older will develop hip arthritis.   Although, a large percentage of adults will develop hip OA the majority of people are unaware of the benefits of physical therapy.  Far too often people will either become less active in order to curb the pain or decide to have a total hip replacement before ever attempting a conservative approach.  The most passive treatment involves using heat on the affected area.   Although this approach may results in a temporary reduction in pain physical therapy can significantly improve patient’s pain and also increase the range of motion and function of the hip.

To treat hip OA a physical therapist will usually focus on techniques that move the hip joint in various positions while stretching the muscles around the hip joint.  The purpose of this is to maximize the amount of range of motion in the joint which can restore motion in the hip and reduce the patient’s pain levels.  In addition, the muscles around the hip are also strengthened through various exercises.  By strengthening the muscles around the hip this will help stabilize the hip joint and will help reduce the amount of pressure sustained by the hip joint. The physical therapist will also provide an individualized home exercise program and education on how and when to return to activities that are causing discomfort.  Aquatic therapy has also been proven to be effective in reducing pain and restoring function of the hip. Exercising while submerged in water reduces the forces on our joints, which may be ideal for a patient with severe OA or for a person who has a low pain tolerance.

Physical therapy provides patients with the ability to continue managing their symptoms in a more active manner rather than taking medications daily.  Furthermore, physical therapy may also delay or in some cases prevent a person from undergoing a total hip replacement, which is very invasive and expensive procedure that may have complications.  If you have been struggling with hip pain call Total Performance Physical Therapy today!


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