Arthritis: Types, Causes, and Treatment Options for Improved Joint Health

Arthritis is a term used to describe diseases or disorders affecting one or more joints and the surrounding tissues. Gout, psoriatic arthritis, arthritis of the spine, juvenile arthritis (JA), osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis are all examples of arthritic conditions. In fact, they all have different causes and symptoms but share a common feature of joint pain, inflammation, and damage.

Aging, genetic factors, joint injury, excess weight, infection within the joint, metabolic conditions like gout, and autoimmune disorders are known factors that increase the risk of developing arthritis.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the causes of osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and how physical therapy can help.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder known to cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, especially in the morning or after prolonged inactivity. With this condition, the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues. This response leads to inflammation, joint damage, pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Affected joints may feel warm or tender to the touch. Because RA damages a wide variety of body systems, it leads to fatigue, a general feeling of being unwell, and complications in the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Several non-invasive approaches can help manage RA’s symptoms and potentially slow its progression. Anti-inflammatory medications help with joint pain and inflammation, whereas corticosteroids provide targeted relief when administered directly into the affected joint(s).

A physical therapy plan tailored to the individual’s needs and abilities is pivotal in managing rheumatoid arthritis. One such intervention is paraffin wax treatment, which involves immersing the hands or feet in warm paraffin wax to help reduce joint pain and stiffness.

  • Strengthening exercises, such as unloading exercises using an open kinetic chain, where the limb moves freely in space without resistance, can help offload the joint while promoting muscle strengthening.
  • Gentle stretching helps reduce stiffness and improve flexibility in the affected joints without exacerbating the symptoms.
  • If non-surgical interventions fail, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove swollen rheumatoid nodules from the joints.

What is Osteoarthritis?

This degenerative joint disease develops when the protective cartilage cushioning the joints in your hands, knees, hips, and spine deteriorates. Wear and tear, also known as mechanical stress, causes this gradual joint damage through repeated use and aging. Joint injuries may also increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The knees, hips, and spine are often more susceptible to this joint disorder, which normally spreads unilaterally, affecting only one side of the body. Over time, compensatory movements due to limited mobility may lead to overuse and increased damage on the opposite side.

Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis

Your doctor will employ several non-surgical approaches to mitigate osteoarthritis pain and related symptoms. For example, you can apply topical creams, gels, or patches directly to the affected joints to relieve pain. Oral analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications can also help treat osteoarthritis pain. Steroid injections may also be utilized in reducing inflammation in affected joints.

Osteoarthritis relies heavily on physical therapy to improve joint function and patient quality of life. The most common interventions used include:

  • Aquatic physical therapy – This uses the water’s buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure to unload the joints and strengthen muscles.
  • Strengthening exercises – This can include short, brisk walks or riding a stationary bike to increase muscle strength and improve joint stability in affected joints.
  • Heat or cold therapy – This may help reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms.
  • Gait training – This involves correcting and improving a patient’s walking pattern to reduce compensatory movements and promote better joint alignment.
  • Joint replacement or fusion surgeries – This can help decrease pain and stiffness while improving the range of motion; ideal when other treatments are ineffective.

Pain management and treatment options for any form of arthritis vary greatly depending on the condition’s severity. Consulting a rheumatologist or physical therapist can help determine the most appropriate approach for alleviating related pain. Contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at (570)-208-2787 or email to book an appointment.