Benefits of Physical Therapy for Arthritis

Physical Therapy is a great option for patients with arthritis. Physical Therapists will evaluate your joints that are affected by arthritis to determine your baseline level of motion and strength. Physical Therapy will help to ease your symptoms associated with arthritis by improving your strength and stability through prescribed exercises. With increased muscle strength supporting your joints, it will decrease joint stress and improve overall function. Physical therapist might also recommend certain modalities along with exercises to help decrease your discomfort. Examples of these modalities are heat, massage, and electrical stimulation. The most common joints that are affected by arthritis are the hands, knees, hip, and spine. The good news is all these joints can benefit from physical therapy.

How does Movement Help Injuries Heal? Cushion for the Pushin’.

If you’ve ever been to a physical therapist, you know that exercise is usually prescribed as the primary treatment for a number of injuries and conditions. Clearly exercise has numerous benefits, but it can sometimes seem counterintuitive to place resistance or load through an injured area — doesn’t it need time to rest and heal? The short answer to that question is generally yes, especially immediately following the injury; however, the right amount of movement and exercise can actually promote healing and recovery from injury. This is where PT comes in.

My goal is to help you understand just how exercise helps restore normal functioning of injured body tissues. This article is part of a series that will discuss how various types of tissue depend on movement to recover. Today’s subject is cartilage, specifically the type that protects your joints from impact and is implicated in the onset of osteoarthritis. This type of cartilage is called articular cartilage. The scope of this article is how exercise helps a joint that is painful due to age- or activity-related changes, not acute articular cartilage injury due to trauma.

Articular cartilage covers the ends of bones where they connect to each other at joints. For instance, there is cartilage covering the end of your femur and the top of your tibia (shin bone) where they meet to form the knee joint. Over time, a loss of thickness in this tissue is normal and not always associated with pain. However, for many people, particularly those who aren’t very active, the loss of tissue can become painful and inflamed. This is termed osteoarthritis. It may seem counterintuitive that something often referred to as “wear and tear” is most common in people who don’t move very much and thus aren’t exerting much wear or tear on their joints. However, there is a distinct explanation for this phenomenon.

Cartilage receives most of its nourishment from nutrients being diffused or pushed into it from the fluid inside the joint. It does not have a very good blood supply like most of our other tissues. Therefore, it is reliant on movement to provide it with a fresh supply of nutrients; if you don’t move often, it doesn’t have a chance to receive adequate nutrition and degenerative changes can take place. The cushioning ability of the cartilage in terms of thickness and strength depends on frequent movement! Therefore, your PT will often address pain related to osteoarthritis using a graded exercise program.

Look out for the next article in the series about tendons and ligaments.

Written by: Dr. Scott Newberry

How to Decrease Arthritic Symptoms

One in four people suffer from arthritis. Arthritis causes stiffness, pain, deformity and decrease function of your joints. Physical therapy can help to decrease pain and restore mobility with the use of exercises and modalities.

Harbor Physical Therapy provides patients with arthritis instruction in exercises to help increase flexibility and improve muscle strength around the joint. A daily home exercise program will help to prevent loss of the use of your joints and preserve muscle strength.

If you are interested in learning more about how physical therapy can help with your arthritic symptoms, please contact us to schedule an appointment.


Arthritis can cause stiffness, pain, deformity and loss of function of the joints in your body. Physical therapy can help to decrease pain and restore mobility with the use of exercises and modalities.

A physical therapist can instruct you in exercises to help increase flexibility and improve muscle strength around the joint. Working daily on a home exercise program, will help to prevent loss of the use of your joints and preserve muscle strength.
If you suffer from arthritis, see your local physical therapist to create a home program to help improve your quality of life.

How To Use A Heating Pad Safely

The colder weather is upon us and many people have an increase in chronic joint or muscle pain. Are you using heat or rubs to treat your pain? If you find relief with these items it is important that you know how to use them safely.

A hot pack can provide pain relief to the chronic aching joints that accompany arthritis. Here are some tips on safe use of a heating pad.

• Do not sleep with a heating pad or you may get a burn.
• Only use a heating pad for 15-30 minutes per hour.
• Be extra careful if you are using a heating pad on an area of your body where you don’t have as much feeling and avoid heating numb areas. If you can’t feel the heat as strongly, you might not realize if
you burn yourself.
• Placing towels between the heating pad and your skin can help reduce the risk of burns.
• If you are using topical rubs and ointments like BenGay, only use after applying a heating pad.
• If you have an acute injury (one which is less than 3 days old), you should use ice instead of heat. Heat is appropriate for chronic injuries or pain more than 3 days old.

If you find that your chronic pain is limiting your normal functional activities, or if your acute injury doesn’t begin to get better with ice and rest, visit your local Physician or Physical Therapist.

Why Do My Joints Ache When the Weather Gets Cold?

Many patients come to physical therapy asking ‘why’ – why they have increased pain when it rains, snows, or just when the weather gets cold.  This question has been researched minimally and considering the amount of patients that report these findings, one would think there would be more research on this topic.

The main theories are as follows:

1. Change in Barometric Pressure – This theory is based on a study of a balloon in a Barometric Chamber.  The Barometric pressure is decreased and the balloon increases in size.  Therefore, the drop in pressure can similarly cause tissues around the joints to swell.  Because a drop in barometric pressure precedes a storm, patients can ‘predict’ when a stormfront is approaching.  Typically, patients with arthritis or a previous joint injury are the patients that report these weather-related findings.

2. Psychological – Another theory mentions that people tend to feel pain in their joints during bad weather, rather than preceding bad weather.  The theory claims that people are less likely to feel the pain on warm, sunny days.  This concept could be due to the increased release of endorphins, with increased sun light and people mentally feel better when it is nicer outside.

3. Humidity – This is my personal theory.  I believe patient’s joints have increased lubrication when there is more humidity in the air.  Just like a hinge requiring lubrication to move in a fluid motion, our joints require constant lubrication to move without restriction and pain.  Therefore, when the humidity decreases, there is a decrease in lubrication of our joints, which in turn causes pain.  This is why most people with arthritis like to move down south to enjoy year-round warmer weather.

In summary, there is no definitive reason why people report increased pain at their joints when the weather changes.  It is suprising how little research is done on this topic.  I believe there is validity for people feeling the change in weather in their joints; however, there does not seem to be a clear reason why it is experienced.  Thoughts?