Physical Therapy for Knee Arthritis

Osteoarthritis of the knee is a result of degenerative changes to the cartilage that cushions the bones of the knee joint. Knee arthritis can make everyday activities difficult and cause significant pain. The condition is most common among adults 65 and older, but symptoms can appear in those as young as 45.

Knee arthritis can be particularly difficult to address. Overuse can worsen joint health, but without exercise, your knee joints will get weaker and continue to deteriorate. Finding the balance can be tricky. Physical therapy can be an effective tool to help you do just that.

Physical therapy for knee arthritis can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness and make it possible to improve the function of your knee joint. In turn, physical therapy can make it easier for you to walk, bend, kneel, squat, and sit. One study found that a combination of manual physical therapy and supervised exercise can provide significant benefits and delay or prevent the need for knee replacement surgery.

There are two common forms of therapy for knee arthritis: passive and active. Your therapist may use one or both of these types of therapy to help treat your knee arthritis. Passive therapy is a form of therapy in which your physical therapist does most of the work, while active therapy requires you to perform exercises either under supervision, at home, or both.

Forms of passive therapy include:

Cold Therapy. Cold therapy reduces swelling by slowing circulation with the application of a cold compress to your knee joint.

Heat Therapy. Heat therapy increases blood flow and decreases stiffness in the joints and muscles surrounding the knee with the use of a heating pad or hot compress.

Hydrotherapy. Also known as aquatic therapy, hydrotherapy uses water to allow you to do gentle exercises in the water that won’t aggravate your joints. Warm water by itself can also help facilitate motion and alleviate pain.

Active therapy treatments include:

Strengthening Exercises. Your physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help you strengthen your muscles and improve the strength of your knee joints, which can help to reduce the pain associated with knee arthritis.

Flexibility Exercises. Knee arthritis makes it hard to move, and flexibility exercises are extremely important. Doing them regularly increases range of motion, making it easier to move your joint and allowing you to restore normal knee function.

Your physical therapist will help you determine which types of therapy will work best for you and may prescribe a combination of passive and active therapy to help you return to normal activities and improve joint strength and flexibility. The sooner you begin therapy, the more likely it will be that you can restore your knee joint function and overcome the difficulties associated with knee arthritis.

Although some causes of arthritis cannot be eliminated (aging, prior injuries, or having a family history of osteoarthritis), there are ways to prevent knee joint deterioration as you age. Below are a few of the steps that can help:

Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds put pressure on your knee and hip joints. It is generally accepted that one pound of extra weight adds up to four pounds of stress on your knees and nearly six times the pressure on your hips.

Monitor your blood sugar. High levels of sugar in your blood can cause stiffness in the tissues that support your joints and make them more sensitive.

Exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise five times a week can help keep your joints strong and limber. Low impact exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming are very effective.

Stretch. Daily gentle stretching allows you to improve and maintain your range of motion.

Watch your diet and habits. Bad habits like smoking can contribute to the deterioration of your joints and tissues. Alcohol can dehydrate you, reducing the ability of cartilage and other tissues to support your joints. In the same vein, fish that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, trout, and mackerel can help reduce inflammation, and drinking plenty of water can allow your tissues to provide optimal impact support.

See your doctor regularly. Checking in with your doctor on a routine basis can help you spot signs that you might need to change your lifestyle habits or start physical therapy BEFORE you develop arthritis.

If you are suffering the symptoms of knee arthritis or would like to learn how to prevent joint pain, contact us at (434) 817-0980 and we will help you determine the best plan to keep you mobile and comfortable as you age. Let us help you to Move Better!