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Arthritis: What Is It? How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Arthritis

If you’re aged 40+ and have experienced pain at your knee, back, shoulder or hip you’ve probably been told “it could be due to arthritis.” Arthritis, is a term so commonly used in our everyday language and has become almost a “rite of passage” that we’ll all experience it at some point in time. If you’ve not personally experienced arthritic joint pain, we’re betting you know someone who has or may questions about what actually is “arthritis.”

Here are a few stories we commonly hear at PRO Therapy. This is how most people will define arthritis and how it impacts their lives…

  • It takes me 20 minutes every morning to get my back loosened up before I can roll out of bed and walk because of arthritis.”
  • “I’ve had to stop talking walks with my spouse because as soon as I get more than 4 blocks the arthritis in my knee acts up and makes it painful with every step.”
  • Every time I get onto the floor to pick something up, I’m scared that I won’t get back up because my hip arthritis makes me so tight and weak.”
  • I can no longer make it a full 18 holes on the golf course because my shoulder will get so stiff and painful by hole number 10 due to arthritis.”

We hear these stories all the time. You may relate to one specifically or fear that this may be in your near future. Gathering the information you’ve heard from family and friends, the stories told above and what other healthcare professionals may have told you…arthritis more times than not is defined as joint stiffness and pain that occurs when we get older. We can add that most people define arthritis as being permanent changes to our body that can only be fixed with surgery and injections.

The good news is…these definitions couldn’t be further from the truth. Arthritis does NOT always indicate pain, stiffness or permanent change to our joints. The stories that we previously mentioned all blame arthritis for their symptoms. We would argue that arthritis more times than not has only a minimal impact on how you can move and the pain and/or stiffness you experience.

So, what does the term arthritis actually mean? We can summarize arthritis to be a word that simply describes the changes that occur in our joints. These changes include: less space within joints, swelling in the joint and for some it may include changes to the bone and cartilage at the joint. These changes are usually found from an X-ray or an MRI.

Here’s the most important part of the “Arthritis” definition…those changes that may occur at our joints DO NOT always indicate reasoning for pain and/or loss of function! Every year, more and more evidence comes out reporting that those changes to our joints we call “arthritis” are normal and do not pre-dispose us to pain. Researchers are finding that when they take X-rays and MRIs of people who have NO complaints of knee, hip, shoulder or back pain they’re still showing positive signs of arthritis. People even in their 30s and early 40s are showing arthritic changes from X-ray and/or MRI but have no issues moving their bodies or complaints of pain/stiffness.

We now understand that arthritis is such a common change that our bodies experience we expect everyone aged 40-50+ to have it, regardless if they have complaints of pain or stiffness. The statistics even indicate that if you’re over 50 years old and you don’t show “arthritic changes” on an X-ray, you would be the outlier. We do agree with the public opinion that arthritis is inevitable for us all, but we don’t agree with the thought that this will always be the reason for pain, stiffness or loss in function.

We think of arthritis as “wrinkles on the inside.” Like wrinkles on our skin, we’ll all experience arthritis as we age. Arthritis, again like wrinkles on our skin, does not indicate that there is an injury or something damaged. It’s all normal aging.

What if I do have pain and stiffness AND an X-ray/MRI shows arthritis? We would say that the arthritic changes to your joint is only one piece of the puzzle. We know that someone the same age can have the same findings on an image…but no pain or stiffness. So, we look at the mobility of that joint, the strength of the muscles around the joint and your overall health and fitness. All of those factors can contribute to your pain, not just the arthritis.

Physical therapy will help improve the mobility of that painful joint while strengthening the muscles that support that joint. We also spend time specifically working on the movements that are difficult due to that joint to improve the efficiency of the joint movement. In most cases, we can help reduce pain associated with arthritis to avoid injections and even worse, joint replacement surgeries.

In summary, we hope this blog post eases your concerns about your current “arthritic pain” and gives you hope that we can make changes. Also, if you’re concerned about developing arthritis in the future, there’s so much you can do now from a prevention perspective. If you still have questions and would like to talk to one of our expert Physical Therapists about what you can do NOW, give us a call at 612-767-9917.


Ben Schacht

Ben Schacht

Dr. Ben Schacht, Physical Therapist, takes pride in providing high quality and evidence-based physical therapy care to his clients, while helping them reach their functional goals. Ben enjoys implementing a hands-on approach to treatment, utilizing manual therapy interventions in conjunction with functional exercise to restore mobility and strength. It is Ben’s personal goal to connect with each client on an individual level and be a trusted health and wellness resource for them. Ben grew up in Monticello, MN where his passion for rehabilitation began after sustaining sports related injuries and personally experiencing the benefits of physical therapy. Ben received his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Concordia College – Moorhead where he played four years of college football. Following graduation, Ben earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from South College in Knoxville, TN. Ben enjoys treating people across the age spectrum with conditions that span from head to toe. He has taken a special interest in utilizing Trigger Point Dry Needling to treat myofascial pain conditions. With his extensive background in athletics, Ben enjoys treating sports related injuries and implementing injury prevention programs for athletes.
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