Physical Therapy For Osteoarthritis: What You Need to Know

Osteoarthritis is a common problem seen in most therapy clinics. Physical therapy can be a wonderful treatment option for people with arthritis as it aids in restoring strength, mobility and makes living with arthritis more manageable. In this article, we will touch on what living with osteoarthritis is like and how physical therapy can help you manage the condition.

About Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a common condition due to aging. With osteoarthritis, regular wear and tear over time causes the cartilage between the joint to break down and affect the bone, causing pain, stiffness, inflammation and loss of mobility as the condition worsens. Though this is more common in the older population, physical factors in younger years such as participation in sports, activity level and occupation can affect the onset of osteoarthritis. Typically, the knees, shoulders, hips and back are most affected.

Some say that their arthritis pain is more prominent in the winter or during the evening. The drop in barometric pressure in the colder months can cause joints to expand, making knees, shoulder and hips more painful to move. Colder weather may also increase the thickness of your joint’s shock absorbing fluid, making the joints stiffer. Additionally, the body’s anti-inflammatory hormone, cortisol, has its highest concentration in the morning, dropping over the course of the day. By evening, cortisol levels are at their lowest and your body is run down from a day’s worth of movement, leading to more pain and stiffness in your joints. The timing of your medications may play a role here as well.

When it comes to diagnosis, OA is typically identified by a PCP or orthopedic specialist. X-rays and a physical examination are usually suitable enough to provide a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of your arthritis, your doctor will address conservative treatment options (including therapy) as well as the possibility of surgical intervention (in which therapy would follow).

How can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapy can be used as an alternative to surgery to manage OA in mild cases, or can be used after surgery as a recovery tool. Both methods require a referral from a physician.

During the course of therapy treatment, physical therapists provide modalities and manual therapy, such as moist heat, electrical stimulation and massage to get your body ready for exercise, or to help recover. During the physical portion of your appointment, your physical therapist will focus on strength, mobility and range of motions exercises in clinic as well as educating you on exercises and lifestyle changes you can do at home.  Some of these home exercises include:


While lying on your back, knees bent and feet planted, raise one knee up towards your chest. Hold your thigh under your knee and gently pull your knee closer until you to feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then release. Repeat 3 times per leg.


While lying on your back, knees bent and feet planted, bridge your hips up into the air, tightening your abs and squeezing your glutes. Hold your highest position for 5 seconds and slowly return to start. Repeat 10 times.


While lying on your back with your arm at your side, clasp your hands together on your chest and slowly raise them up upwards and then back so your hands are overhead. Hold for 5 second and then slowly return to start. Repeat 10 times.

Tips From Our Physical Therapists:

Unfortunately, there is no cure or universal treatment for osteoarthritis. However, here are some additional tips from our therapists that may help cope with osteoarthritis:

  1. Stay active! Whether through PT exercises or your own at home. Keeping your body moving will improve mobility and strength.
  2. Get enough sleep!
  3. Follow a healthy diet, maybe even lose some weight to lighten the load on your joints.
  4. Do what you can to keep your pain under control, with or without anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections from a physician. The less pain you’re in, the more likely you are to follow tips 1, 2, and 3!
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