Movement is Medicine: Physical Therapy & Arthritis

May is national arthritis month. Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects more than 54 million adults (that’s 1 in 5 adults) in the United States. One third of working-age people with arthritis have some kind of limitation in their ability to work. With nearly 1 million hospitalizations each year due to arthritis, and arthritis costs $156 billion each year in medical expenses and lost wages, that makes it one of the leading causes of disability.

Arthritis is a serious condition, and a serious problem. The good news is that physical therapy is a proven and effective treatment to manage symptoms, improve function, and enhance quality of life. Physical therapists are licensed professionals who evaluate and treat conditions that limit the body’s ability to move and perform daily activities. They can also teach you how to prevent or reduce the impact of arthritis on your health and well-being.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Managing Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis comes in 2 forms: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs because of wear and tear on the joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease. It occurs because of the immune system attacking the joint lining. Physical therapy can reduce joint pain, improve mobility, and help to prevent further damage to the joints. Using individualized exercises, physical therapists help people manage their condition and reduce discomfort. Physical therapists often combine advice on lifestyle modifications with exercise to maximize improvement. Below are various types of exercise that can help manage arthritis symptoms.

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises gently move affected joints through their entire range of motion. This can help reduce stiffness and improve mobility. Examples include gentle stretching, tai chi, or gentle yoga.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise creates repeated motion, moving the synovial fluid in the joints. It also increases blood flow and releases endorphins which reduce pain. Aerobic exercise also helps to control weight. Weight loss is proven to reduce the stress on your joints, which can reduce pain. Aerobic exercise for people with arthritis should be low impact. This includes activities such as walking, cycling, or swimming.

Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of managing arthritis. It decreases pain, improves strength, and function. Stronger muscles around the affected joints provide better support and protection.

Aquatic Exercise

Exercising in a therapeutic pool is a good treatment for people with arthritis. The buoyancy of the water helps to relieve some of the body’s pressure on the joints, and the water pressure also provides compression on the joints. This offers some stability and pain relief. The movement of your body through the water creates resistance for your muscles, which allows them to get stronger in a protective environment.


Besides designing a custom exercise program, a physical therapist will educate people with arthritis on lifestyle modifications to help manage their symptoms. Some suggestions might include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress. A PT can also modify daily activities to help protect joints affected by arthritis. This can slow down or prevent progression of symptoms.

Physical therapy is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis. Current clinical guidelines for treating arthritis include strong recommendations for exercise and other physical therapy treatments. If you’re one of the 53 million Americans with arthritis, give your physical therapist a call. They’re a great provider to help you reduce pain, manage your symptoms, and move better.

Northern Rehab‘s physical therapists are trained to treat chronic conditions including arthritis and will work one-on-one with each patient to reach their goals and to meet their expectations. You don’t have to live with pain; if you are interested in beginning physical therapy or would like more information, please contact us at 815.756.8524.