READ: The one thing not to miss when treating your arthritis.


Jack is a Rheumatology Clinical Lead and a specialist Physiotherapist in Orthopaedics. Jack deals in the management and treatment of musculoskeletal pain and injury with a special interest in working with patients who suffer from inflammatory disorders. 

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The role of physiotherapy in the treatment of arthritis is far more wide-reaching than you might think. A truly holistic approach, which incorporates both a patient’s physical and mental health, is vital in terms of helping individuals manage their arthritis and general wellbeing. Physiotherapists first look to establish what an individual has lost the ability to physically do due to their arthritis. They can then build an exercise plan that will enable them to get back to doing what they love most.  

The biggest impact of physiotherapy is increasing the function of the joint. Simply reducing pain isn’t necessarily the most helpful measure to work from. The focus should be on how we can empower individuals to return to their preferred activity, whether that be vigorous exercise or gardening.

Historic clinical advice was often centred around negative rhetoric, suggesting that arthritis was caused by ‘wear and tear’ or that a joint would only have a certain amount of mileage. This has now changed, with a more positive outlook now being encouraged.

Global assessments promoting better understanding

In an initial physiotherapy assessment the session focuses on the individual’s needs, establishing the range of motion of the joint as well as the strength of the surrounding muscles. Gaining a handle of the general conditioning of an individual is also vital. Someone might have excellent muscular conditioning in their legs, but have poor cardiovascular health, meaning they’re not getting enough oxygen to those muscles. By understanding these factors, we can then work towards giving an exercise plan that’s tailored towards individual goals.

Mental and physical health are closely connected in the healing process

Understanding an individual’s mental health has come more sharply in to focus too, as people with poorer mental health have been proven to report pain more acutely. Assessments should go well beyond simply helping individuals increase joint function. We need a picture of general health, with diet and sleep patterns being just as important as joint function.

Patients need to be able to enjoy their exercise plan

When motivating individuals to exercise regularly, enjoyment is really important. There’s little mileage in prescribing gym work when someone who’s never set foot in a gym. Instead, the approach should be tailored to the individual and their desire to achieve their own personal goals. Swimming can be really beneficial exercise, with people often having enjoyed it at school but not kept it up. It can increase weight bearing in the joint, and the muscular strength around it, without the impact of running or lifting heavy weights.

Following a programme of exercise should mean that no exercise type - including running or weight lifting - is off the table for most arthritis patients. Managing expectations and educating individuals on how to build their strength up is a key role for physiotherapists. Venus Williams has an inflammatory condition, which she manages. Having arthritis doesn’t mean people can’t be active anymore, but individuals do need to be mindful of their own bodies.

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