Arthritis is a common joint condition that affects millions of people. The damage caused by arthritis can lead to painful, swollen joints with limited motion. As arthritis progresses, patients become increasingly limited in their mobility and ability to function in everyday life.
There are two main types of arthritis:
Commonly referred to as “RA”, it is an autoimmune disorder which causes chronic inflammation to the lining of the joints in our body. As an autoimmune disorder, RA causes the body to attack itself. Frequently, symptoms appear first in the smaller joints of the fingers and toes. In about 40% of RA patients, symptoms are also experienced in non-joint structures such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, and blood vessels. RA is also characterized by periods of flare ups and relative remission.
This form of arthritis is the “wear and tear” damage associated with aging and injury. OA, can affect only one joint or multiple joints. Damage to the cartilage that covers the joint surfaces leads to a loss of smooth, frictionless motion in that joint. Symptoms typically include painful, swollen, stiff joints with “grinding” and “rubbing” in more advanced cases.
Both forms of arthritis are characterized by tender, swollen, warm joints. Joint stiffness and pain that is typically worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity. As the condition progresses common symptoms may also include loss of available motion in a joint and a sensation of “grinding” or “clicking” with movement.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: There is no cure for RA, however the condition can successfully be managed with a combination of physical therapy and medication. Medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (commonly referred to as NSAID’s) and in severe cases anti-rheumatic drugs and steroids short term for severe flare-ups.
Osteoarthritis: There is no cure or method of reversing the damage done by OA. However, with proper care symptoms can be significantly reduced and function improved. This can be achieved through physical therapy interventions and the use of medications. A physician can prescribe NSAID’s for short term relief of inflammation.
Physical Therapy interventions are similar for both types of arthritis. A treatment program would consist of modalities to decrease or manage pain and inflammation such as ice, heat, electric stimulation, and ultrasound. Additionally, gentle therapeutic exercise is used to increase strength around affected joints and stretching to increase or maintain flexibility.