Addressing Arthritis Pain Through Physiotherapy

By Lakeview Physio
Nancy Baxter
BScPT, Acupuncture, Certified Gunn IMS
August 30, 2017

Arthritis is associated with over 100 identifiable conditions that present in whole or part with joint pain, inflammation and stiffness.

Arthritis is associated with over 100 identifiable conditions that present in whole or part with joint pain, inflammation and stiffness.

According to the Arthritis Society, over 4.6 million Canadian adults (one in six Canadians aged 15 years and older) report having arthritis.

As the Canadian population grows, it is predicted that by the year 2036 that 7.5 million Canadian adults will have some form of arthritis.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition that is characterized by painful inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. Factors leading to the development of arthritis are varied and can include genetics, disorders of the immune system, previous injury, sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Arthritis can affect any joint and may present in one, several, or many joints depending on the type and severity of the condition.  Common areas of impact are the neck and back, small joints (hands, feet, jaw) or large joints such as hips and knees.

There is no doubt that arthritis is widespread amongst adults, with unfortunately, no cure. But, there is much that can be done through medical management, physiotherapy and self management!

Who Gets Arthritis?

Anyone. Kids, adults, seniors. All races. Male and female, although the incidence of inflammatory arthritis is higher for females than males.

RA affects women two to three times more often than men

What Kind of Arthritis Do I Have?

This is the million dollar question! Accurate diagnosis is key to a establishing a successful treatment program with your doctor and physiotherapist. While it can at times be a medical challenge to establish correct diagnosis, the most common arthritis conditions are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Both have the commonality of joint pain, swelling and stiffness, but in truth are very different conditions.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects the hands, spine, hips and knees. Factors influencing the development of OA include genetic predisposition, aging, wear and tear from repetitive use and traumatic joint injury (such as 3rd degree ligament tears in the knee). OA is diagnosed by considering history (perhaps an old injury), behaviour of the pain, clinical examination of joint swelling and joint range of motion and x-ray imaging. It can affect one joint or many and will develop slowly over time.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting more than three million Canadians — that’s one in 10!

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the joints, called the synovium, and occasionally some internal organs such as lungs and eyes. The onset of this disease can be slow and gradual or sudden and severe and the joint pain and swelling may also be accompanied by fatigue and a low grade fever. RA affects the small joints of the hands and feet as well as the jaw and upper neck, shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles. Hips joints interestingly are less often involved in RA.

Medical management by a Rheumatologist (doctor specializing in arthritis) is mandatory for successful diagnosis and treatment of RA. Current medications, and medical knowledge of how to best combine the medications strives for remission of autoimmune arthritis conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. This is a huge advancement from the past when medications managed pain and swelling but did not modify the course of the disease.

Learn more about arthritis:

How do Physiotherapists Treat Arthritis?

Diagnosis, Diagnosis, Diagnosis

Accurate diagnosis that is!

Often, patients with undiagnosed arthritis attend physiotherapy for help with their spine, hip, knee, shoulder or hand pain and stiffness. As physiotherapists, we are trained to ask questions that determine the onset and pattern of the pain and do clinical examinations of the joints and their movements that give us a great deal of information about what is causing the joint problem. When appropriate, we communicate our findings with the patients doctor. A physiotherapists assessment can help the physician direct requisition of medical testing such as blood work and x-ray imaging.

When a patient has a medical diagnosis, such as rheumatoid arthritis at their first visit, we are able to move quickly to develop a personalized physiotherapy treatment plan with realistic goals.

Personalized Treatment Plan

Education, Education, Education

Physiotherapists are educators and a dynamic part of the medical team treating arthritic conditions. We strive to help our patients understand their arthritis; in its current state and projecting into the future.

Physiotherapists embrace patient self management and teach:

  • Techniques to manage joint pain
  • Strategies to reduce joint swelling
  • Joint protection – ways to reduce strain on joints and prevent or minimize joint deformities
  • Exercises to restore and maintain joint mobility
  • Exercises to improve and maintain strength and function

Arthritis, every type, can flare up from time to time. Sometimes there is an identifiable reason such as overuse of a joint with osteoarthritis or a new injury. With systemic inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, the disease may have a mind of its own and flare despite adherence to medications, exercise and self management strategies. In these situations of flare up of arthritis, physiotherapy offers treatments to reduce joint pain and inflammation and advise on modifications to exercise and activity until the symptoms are resolved.

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But Wait… It takes a Team!

In times of flare up and increased joint pain symptoms, physiotherapists communicate with the physician and other healthcare professionals, as medical management may need to be reviewed.


Physiotherapists work with arthritis in many forms and many stages every day. If you’d like to see a physiotherapist, please don’t hesitate to contact our practice – we always have time to help you.


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