Millions of Americans suffer each day from the effects of arthritis, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that it continues to be the most common cause of disability in the United States. Its symptoms can start out small at first – stiff joints in the morning, or pain in your hands from yard work. However, left untreated, it may lead to debilitating pain and loss of movement.

Lauren Watson, a physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy, clinic explains arthritis, and how physical therapy may be able to help.

“Because of the stiffness in joints and the pain associated with arthritis, many patients avoid movement to avoid the pain,” says Lauren. “However, it has been proven in the research that skilled therapeutic exercise and manual therapy can reduce pain and improve function in these patients” (Deyle,

What is Arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, a disease of the joint caused by the deterioration of the cartilage, which leads to function loss and pain when bone rubs on bone. The hands, knees, hips and shoulders are the most common areas affected. Symptoms include cracking in joints, stiffness, pain and limited range of motion.

How Do I Know If I Have Arthritis?

A diagnosis of arthritis from your physician is needed to ensure proper treatment and is typically diagnosed using an x-ray.

What Can Physical Therapy Do?

The therapists at ATI can provide an individualized treatment that will help, which includes skilled therapeutic exercise, aerobic conditioning, manual therapy, strength training, and gait assessment. All of these interventions can help to decrease the overall pain and stiffness related to arthritis in order to improve functional capacity and lead to a better quality of life. In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association reports that physical therapy can be just as effective as surgery for some arthritis cases.

Tips for Dealing with Arthritis

Lauren recommends following these tips to help cope with arthritis:

- Keep Moving: Strive for 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week. The 30 minutes can be broken up into intervals throughout the day.

- Warm-up: Be sure to stretch 30 minutes prior to any exercise routine.

- Listen to your body: If your body is telling you you’re doing too much, take a break.

- Hydrate: Drink plenty of water to keep your muscles and joints properly hydrated.

- Watch your weight: A healthy weight will minimize stress on your joints.

- Heat: A warm bath or shower, or heating pad placed on the affected joint for 15 minutes may relieve the pain.

- Wear comfortable and proper fitting shoes: Look for shoes that offer support and avoid high-heels and slip-ons.