You may not realize your joints’ role in your everyday life until you experience chronic joint pain. Even simple tasks like walking or opening a jar become a problem. One common condition that causes joint pain is arthritis which primarily affects the knees, elbows, ankles, and hips. If you have been diagnosed with the condition, you are likely to stay on medication for a long time to improve mobility, keep fit, and increase the strength to support the joints.

However, if you are already tired of being on medication or experiencing side effects, you can opt for other remedies like physical therapy (PT) to manage the pain. Although many people assume that PT is a treatment for individuals recovering from serious injuries or devastating conditions like stroke, utilizing PT for arthritis pain has proved safe and effective. At Suarez Therapy, we are licensed physical therapists in Las Vegas, providing quality PT treatment for arthritis patients. Discussed below is the physical guide to Osteoarthritis.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition or disease that causes inflammation or degradation of the joints or the areas where joints meet and move. As stated above, the condition mainly affects the lower back, hips, knees, hands, and feet, and the changes caused by the disease often result in pain.

Your joints are cushioned and supported by soft connective tissues called articular cartilage that protect bones from rubbing against each other, thus moving smoothly without causing any pain. Other joints, especially those on the knees, are supported by tendons that link bones and muscles. On the other hand, ligaments connect bones to other bones. When these parts break down, they cause a lot of pain.

The most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis which is further discussed below.

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?

As indicated above, the articular cartilage protects the bones around the joint by coating them with a rubbery substance that reduces friction during movement. Synovial fluid is another fluid substance that eases movement at the joints. When these parts degrade, the bones meeting at the joint begin to rub against each other when moving, and this could result in severe damage to the bones or cartilage itself.

Some of the degradations of the cartilages might be caused by natural aging. However, conditions like gout stem from excessive uric acid in the body. Still, others like OA, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, and juvenile arthritis may have causes that vary from one patient to another.

Factors That Increase the Risk of Osteoarthritis

Researchers are yet to establish the cause of OA, but some elements are known to increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Some factors may be within your control while others are not.  These factors are:

  1. Family History

OA is known to run in families. If your family has a history of OA, chances are high you may develop a similar condition. Genes are known to be the primary contributor of OA running in families, but experts haven’t linked any specific gene to the increased risk of developing Osteoarthritis. Based on various studies, some bodies have problems building cartilages, and they might pass on the genes to their children, which results in OA running in the family.

  1. Age Factor

As your body ages, the joints are not left behind. Your cartilages and synovial fluid degrade as days go by, and this increases the possibility of developing OA. And because age has been directly linked to joint inflammation and breakdown, you are likely to begin experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis at the age of 65.

  1. Sex or Gender

Based on the National Institutes of Health statistics, osteoarthritis affects both genders, but it’s slightly more common in men before they attain the age of 45. However, women have been at a higher risk of developing the condition over the past forty-five years than men. Experts have linked the varying risk with stressors that both genders experience in different stages of life.

  1. Weight or Obesity

If you are obese or overweight, your body is often under a lot of stress and strain, which may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. The condition mainly affects the knees, hips, and spine, but this doesn’t mean other body parts won’t be affected. Osteoarthritis even affects the body parts that don’t bear much weight, like the hands. Therefore, the weight alone might not increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, explaining why the disease might affect the hands.

  1. A Past Injury

If you have been previously injured in a knee or hip joint, the risk of developing osteoarthritis is high in the specific joint.

  1. Particular Occupations

Certain professionals like construction, childcare, or landscaping involve a lot of squatting, bending, and twisting. If you spend most of your time in these occupations, the probability of developing osteoarthritis is high. Besides, miners are equally exposed to this risk because of prolonged kneeling. Furthermore, a job that requires a lot of moving, lifting, or climbing stairs for a long duration may put unnecessary stress or strain on the joints, increasing the chances of developing OA.

  1. Joint Intensive Sporting Activities

If you are an athlete and frequently take part in a joint-intensive sport, the risk of developing OA is high. Also, sports like jumping and landing involve repetitive joint movement, which increases the likelihood of OA.

Additionally, you may develop OA due to poor posture where you stand or sit improperly. Also, your lifestyle, like smoking or not exercising, increases the chances of developing OA. Patients with particular metabolic diseases like diabetes and hemochromatosis or those born with bone deformities in the joints have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis are often experienced around the joints. They develop gradually and become worse over time. If you create this form of arthritis, you are likely to experience pain and stiffness in the joints. Other symptoms of the condition are:

  • Stiffness in the joints in the morning or long hours of inactivity
  • Pain in the affected joints during or after a sporting activity. The pain goes away after rest.
  • Joint tenderness after applying pressure
  • Bone spurs or growth of extra bits of bones that form around the affected joint
  • A grating sensation that feels like creaking, crunching, or cracking
  • Loss of flexibility as the condition hinders the joint from making a full range of motion
  • Pain and tenderness when you press or apply pressure around the affected joint

It’s worth noting that although you might experience warmth and swelling around joints, it’s not always a sign of OA. It might be a sign of another condition, making it necessary to talk to a doctor about your symptoms.

Also, not every OA patient experiences the symptoms mentioned above. Most of these patients experience symptoms that manifest and disappear throughout the day. However, experts have identified some triggers that cause OA symptoms. These triggers vary from one person to another, and one of them is inactivity. If you remain still for a prolonged duration, the joints become stiff, and you may experience some pain when you try to move, which explains why many people experience OA symptoms in the morning.

Furthermore, if you are highly stressed, the stress might blow out of proportion your perception of pain, triggering OA symptoms. Additionally, cold or humid weather might trigger or worsen OA symptoms.

These symptoms appear then disappear. It might be challenging to determine when it’s right to go for an appointment. However, specialists recommend that you see a doctor whenever your joints are hurting or feel stiffness.

Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

If you suspect you have OA, see a medical practitioner right away before the condition becomes worse. Your doctor will inquire about the symptoms you are experiencing and find out how the hurting joints affect the various aspects of your life. The expert will perform a physical exam that involves the following:

  • Evaluation of mobility and range motions around the areas where bones meet
  • Inspecting the areas for tenderness or swelling within the joints
  • Analyzing your overall well-being to determine if a different condition is causing the symptoms

Also, most doctors rely on imaging to obtain clear images of the joints, bones, and soft tissues around the joint that ease mobility. Based on your preference, the doctor can use an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI. The images obtained will show:

  • Any broken bones or dislocations that may be triggering your pain
  • Degradation of cartilages around the joints
  • Soft tissue inflammation
  • Muscle or tendon injuries

When it comes to physical therapy, we at Suarez Physical Therapy use the American Academy of rheumatology guidelines for knee OA. Further, if you experience a minimum of three of the following symptoms, we are also likely to rule knee OA:

  • Bony enlargement
  • Stiffness for at most half an hour
  • Crunching sound from the joints whenever there is movement
  • Bony enlargement
  • Tenderness around the joints

What Can a Physical Therapist Do For You?

Osteoarthritis has no specific cure, but many treatment options are available to help manage pain and improve movement. The recommended treatment depends on the symptoms, severity of the condition, and overall health.

One of the non-surgical treatments for OA that has proven very effective is physical therapy. Therefore, if you want to avoid painkillers or surgery, you should find the right PT therapist to help with your situation. And because patients experience varying symptoms, different exercise programs are implemented based on your needs. Further, PT aims at dealing with the risk factors to manage the pain and other symptoms while preventing the condition from advancing.

Moreover, the exercise programs help enhance flexibility, forte, and coordination. To help you attain these treatment goals, a physical therapist will:

  • Conduct a thorough evaluation or analysis of your condition
  • Spot the activities you are unable to undertake
  • Educate you on proper posture and body mechanisms shared in daily activities to manage pain or enhance functionality.
  • Develop a bespoke exercise program that will deal with your individual needs and improve effectiveness.
  • Utilize manual PT to enhance mobility of the affected areas
  • Offer recommendations for modification of your workstation or environment to reduce stress on the joints.
  • Explain aerobic and consolidation exercises to mend your overall health and mobility
  • Develop and train you on various exercises you can perform from home to enhance strength and mobility.
  • Suggest lifestyle adjustments to help shed off weight
  • Training you on the different exercise programs that can help with safe weight loss
  • Teach you how to use devices like walkers and scratches that help you with movement

Note that even if PT is an effective non-surgical treatment for OA, it won’t be effective if your condition has advanced or worsened. You will need surgery to replace the knee or hip joint. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we refer patients with severe OA to orthopedics to explore the surgery options.

What Should You Expect in a PT Session?

If you book a physical therapy session with us, we will train you to perform some exercises yourself. The appointments are usually short and focused on identifying the challenges you face with your physical function and designing strategies to resolve these problems.

Before calling us for an appointment, you must analyze your situation and determine which of your physical functions are affected by the OA. Also, you must come up with goals or the bodily functions you need to regain at the end of the therapy. Some of the goals you may want to have for the treatment are:

  • Stepping in and out of your vehicle without hurting
  • Taking a walk
  • Going about your daily activities without complaining about the hips or knees
  • Raise your toes or arms to reach out for items placed on elevated surfaces like the kitchen cabinets.

With clear objectives like these, it becomes easy for our licensed physical therapists to develop programs tailored to attain the goals.

You might need to come for sessions once a week. If you need to update the program, you can do it once every couple of months. Also, if the OA seems to affect your exercises and you are falling behind the schedule, you can return for an adjustment to your exercise program. Again, you may require adjusting the treatment strategy if another joint is involved and hinders bodily function in other areas.

If you want PT to succeed in managing OA, you must learn the various exercise programs from our therapists then practice them at home. That way, the program becomes a routine, eventually strengthening your body and regaining lost physical function. Exercises that strengthen your muscles include climbing stairs and squatting. Our physical therapists are trained to restore regular and painless activity. Some of the modalities and techniques used to manage arthritis are:

Range of Motions (ROM)

Loss of full joint range of motion is a common effect of arthritis. The condition reduces the joint space, causing bones to rub against each other during movement hence the source of pain. Also, you may experience pain if the disease causes your muscles to stiffen. The muscles and joints are connected because whenever a joint is inactive, the surrounding muscle becomes tight. After a thorough evaluation of the ROM, the therapist can recommend stretches to reduce muscle compression and enhance joint mobility.

Pain Management

If you are dealing with OA or any other type of arthritis, the pain and inflammation can hinder the quality of your life to a great extent. Our physical therapists will use the most advanced tools to manage the pain through electrical stimulation and ultrasound. With proper pain management modalities, it becomes easy to regain joint function. Using our experience and training, we have what it takes to perform joint mobilization, passive stretching, and reflexology techniques that enhance joint function and lower pain.

How Do You Find a Therapist?

If you are interested in PT to manage OA, you must find the right therapist. Finding one in Las Vegas is challenging because all licensed physical therapists undergo the same education, training, and experience. Additionally, there are no specialists for specifically affected joints.

Before commencing your search, ask for recommendations from your doctor or family members. From the list of the names you obtain, conduct some background checks on the training and education of the therapists you are considering. From your list, pick a board-certified clinical expert or one that has completed a residency with an orthopedic physical therapist. That way, you can be sure you are working with a professional with advanced skills, knowledge, and experience to handle your condition the right way.

Also, you may want to pick a professional whose area of expertise is osteoarthritis. You can even make a call to their office and inquire about the number of patients with conditions like yours they have treated in the past. The more people with OA they have assisted, the higher the chances of obtaining the desired objectives.

Find an Experienced Physical Therapist Near Me

If you are one of those arthritis patients in Las Vegas tired of painkillers or medications that are no longer effective, you need physical therapy to manage your OA. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we offer PT services to arthritis patients to help manage pain and improve joint functionality. For more questions regarding our services or to arrange an appointment, call 702-368-6778 for a free consultation.