Arthritis or more specifically, osteoarthritis (OA) is quite common in India, affecting mainly middle-aged to elderly people with a whopping 10 million new cases occurring every year! OA is a type of arthritis that is a degenerative joint disease resulting from wearing down of flexible tissues, joint linings and cartilages from the end of bones. It can occur in the hands, neck, lower back, hips and knees. It starts gradually and worsens with time, with joint pain being the most glaring symptom.

Management usual involves medication, physiotherapy and in some cases, surgery to reduce pain and retain joint movement. While medications do help, a physiotherapist can get you moving effectively and safely through a stepwise process. Most people with arthritis have stiff joints and tend to avoid using them due to the pain; this only worsens the stiffness and pain. A physiotherapist’s job is to focus on improving your mobility and function. Their goal is to restore the use of the affected joint, increase strength to support the joint and maintain fitness and ability to perform daily functions.

These professionals use the patient’s history, x-rays or scans and a physical exam to arrive at a management plan of rehabilitation. This could employ the use of heat, cold, water, electricity, radiation, sound waves, assistive devices, prosthesis, traction, manual therapy, manipulation and specific exercises, etc; the management plan is created specific to each individual patient’s needs.

The key to successful treatment is knowing your specific complaints and what you want to be done about them. A successful outcome from your visits to the physiotherapists should include learning the exercises you are taught and practising them at home over a long period of time. Improvement is usually gradual in OA, so be patient and carry on the exercise as your body gets stronger and adapts with time.

A physiotherapist’s treatment can also help in relieving persistent pain without having to resort to surgery, and slowly wean you off high medication doses. They can teach you the proper posture and body mechanics for daily activities to improve function or on how to use assistive devices like walkers and canes effectively. They can also offer you expert opinions on the proper use of supportive braces and splints or shoe inserts, ergonomic chairs and padded mats, etc. A lot can be learnt from them to relieve the pain and slow down the degenerative joint disease. A doctor can only do so much, but physiotherapists can do much more as far as arthritis patients are concerned!

Many people are unaware that early intervention by a physiotherapist can help in preserving the integrity and function of an afflicted joint for years – or even a lifetime; early intervention can also stave off unnecessary suffering from debilitating pain and a possible recourse to surgery. The first part of physical therapy is aimed at reducing the inflammation, followed by increasing flexibility and reducing the debilitating stiffness. The last component is strengthening the soft tissue around the joint.

You must note that physiotherapy is however not a cure for arthritis; it’s just a way of restoring function to the damaged joint by improving the muscles, tendons and ligaments around it.

Secondly, you will have to end up spending many years doing physiotherapy as soft tissue inflammation keeps flaring up. This means ongoing visits to the therapists. And that translates into ongoing medical expenses which might not be refundable!

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