Painful and stiff joints? Movement is the best treatment for arthritis

10 tips for starting an exercise regime for those with osteoarthritis

Chances are very good that you are going to get some form of arthritis in your lifetime. That’s because arthritis affects people of all ages, sexes and races.

It’s the leading cause of disability in America. The Arthritis Foundation reports more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis

Katherine Grimmett, physical therapist for St. Joseph’s Outpatient Therapy
Katherine Grimmett, PT, DPT, physical therapist for St. Joseph’s Outpatient Therapy

“It’s a natural part of the aging process,” says Katherine Grimmett, PT, DPT, physical therapist for St. Joseph’s Outpatient Therapy. “Arthritis in some form is going to be present on X-rays on most anyone over the age of 40 regardless if they have pain.”

Arthritis is inflammation (-itis) of the joints (arthro). Symptoms of arthritis include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go, and as Grimmett states, some people may have arthritis but never experience any side effects.

Arthritis is not a single disease, but a way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis including osteoarthritis (known as the “wear and tear” arthritis), rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own joints) and gout (where the joint becomes inflamed when episodes of high uric acid levels occur in the blood).

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting more than three million people in the United States. It also is the most common form of arthritis seen and treated at St. Joseph’s/Candler Outpatient Rehabilitation centers, says Heidi Prado, MS, PT, Clinical Manager for St. Joseph’s Outpatient Therapy.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage begins to wear away from the ends of bones. Once the cartilage wears down, it allows bony surfaces to rub together or grind, Prado says. This can be painful and cause inflammation of the joint. Osteoarthritis degeneration typically occurs in the spine, hips, knees, hands and neck.

“It makes people very stiff when they first get up in the morning,” Grimmett says. “You will experience pain going up and down stairs and standing and walking to the point where it will really limit a lot folks from being able to participate in activities they are interested in.”

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatment can help. While movement with any form of arthritis can be painful, exercise, flexibility and strength are the best treatments. 

Heidi Prado, Clinical Manager for St. Joseph’s Outpatient Therapy

“Often if a joint is painful, people tend to avoid using the joint or moving the joint,” Prado says. “They then lose flexibility and strength, which results in a decrease in function. We help restore lost motion and strength, provide methods to help control pain and unload painful joints.”

What to expect during physical therapy

The St. Joseph’s/Candler six outpatient rehabilitation centers can help treat arthritis. 

Patients can expect to be seen two to three times a week with each session lasting about an hour, Prado says. The duration of therapy depends on the length of time the client has been suffering with their condition, but averages six weeks.

If a patient has very painful arthritis, Prado says therapy will begin with gentle stretching to improve motion and decrease joint compression. Then you will build to strengthening and functional endurance activities to restore lost abilities such as stair climbing.

Ice, heat or possibly electrical stimulation may be used to control pain, stiffness or swelling. Therapists also will educate clients on joint protection and safe re-entry activities.

“A lot of times people really limit their exercise because of their arthritis when really it’s the best thing you can possible do,” Grimmett says. “We would encourage anybody that’s limited in their ability to do the things that they want to do to come visit us and see what we can do for them.”

Exercise tips for treating osteoarthritis

Ready to start moving to help with your arthritis symptoms? Here are 10 tips for starting an exercise regime with osteoarthritis.

  1. Discuss your plan with your healthcare provider
  2. Start with the supervision of a physical or occupational therapist
  3. Applying heat to the affected joint prior to exercise is helpful
  4. Stretch and warm up with range of motion exercises
  5. Start strengthening exercises slowly with small weights
  6. Progress slowly
  7. Use cold packs after exercising may be helpful
  8. Add low impact aerobic exercises such as walking
  9. Consider appropriate recreational exercises such as bicycling after doing stretching, strengthening and aerobic exercises
  10. Ease off of exercises if the joint becomes painful, red or swollen

For more information about St. Joseph’s/Candler Outpatient Rehabilitation services, visit our website to find the best center for you. 

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000