What is the goal of physical therapy?
The goal of physical therapy is to get a person back to the point where he or
she can perform normal, everyday activities without difficulty.
Preserving good range of motion and strength is key to maintaining the ability
to perform daily activities. Therefore, increasing the range of motion of a
joint and building strength in the involved muscles surrounding the joint (since
stronger muscles can better stabilize a weakened joint) are the primary focus of
Physical therapists provide exercises designed to preserve the strength and use
of your joints. They can show you the best way to move from one position to
another and can also teach you how to use walking aids such as crutches, a
walker or a cane, if necessary.
What are some benefits of physical therapy programs?
You gain education about your type of arthritis, so that you can be well
You will learn therapeutic methods to relieve discomfort and improve performance
through various physical techniques and activity modifications.
What techniques will I learn?
Rest. Bed rest helps reduce both joint inflammation and pain, and is especially
useful when multiple joints are affected and fatigue is a major problem.
Thermal modalities. Applying ice packs or heating pads, as well as deep heat
provided by ultrasound and hot packs, can help relieve local pain. Heat also
relaxes muscle spasm around inflamed joints. Heating joints and muscles with a
warm bath or shower before exercising may help you exercise more easily.
Exercise. Exercise is an important part of arthritis treatment that is most
effective when done properly every day. Your doctor and therapist will prescribe
a program for you that may vary as your needs change.
What therapy is offered for people recovering from joint replacement?
Preoperative programs of education and exercise, started before surgery, are
continued at home. They may be changed in the hospital after surgery to fit new
needs during the rehabilitation period. These exercises may be added to your
usual exercise regimen, and you may find your ability to exercise has improved
What joint protection techniques are offered?
There are ways to reduce the stress on joints affected by arthritis while
participating in daily activities. Some of these include:
Controlling your weight to avoid putting extra stress on weight-bearing joints
such as the back, hips, knees and feet.
Being aware of body position, using good posture to protect your back and the
joints of your legs and feet. When possible, sit down to do a job instead of
standing. Change position often since staying in one position for a long time
tends to increase stiffness and pain.
Conserving energy by allowing for rest periods, both during the workday and
during an activity.
Respecting pain. It is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Don’t
try an activity that puts strain on joints that are already painful or stiff.
Some joint protection techniques include:
Using proper body mechanics for getting in and out of a car, chair or tub, as
well as for lifting objects.
Using your strongest joints and muscles to reduce the stress on smaller joints.
For example, carrying a purse or briefcase with a shoulder strap rather than
with your hand.
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Rheumatic and
Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD, Sept. 2003.
Copyright © 2004, The Cleveland Clinic.
Reprinted courtesy of WebMD