How Physical Therapy Can Help Mobility When You Have Arthritis

Have you been diagnosed with arthritis? You may think the condition is more common as you get older, but surprisingly, almost two-thirds of those in the U.S. with arthritis are between the age of 18-64.

Perhaps you’re an athlete in your 40s who’s had a traumatic injury to your ankle. At Phoenix Foot and Ankle Institute, board-certified Dr. Jeffrey McAlister treats foot and ankle arthritis, most often caused by post-traumatic arthritis, a form of osteoarthritis, and sometimes from rheumatoid arthritis.

More than 100 different types of arthritis exist, but the two that are found most frequently are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Post-traumatic arthritis occurs when a joint eventually wears out because it’s suffered a previous traumatic injury from any number of sources — a fall, a car accident, or other cause. The original injury weakens the cartilage and sometimes the bones so the joint develops wear and tear more quickly than it would otherwise. 

Even if the ankle heals from the injury, it’s more likely to wear out than an ankle that hasn’t been injured. If you love playing tennis and continue playing after your ankle heals from a traumatic injury, you’re more at risk for post-traumatic arthritis. As with osteoarthritis, symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis include pain, inflammation, and swelling

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition. Your body’s immune system begins to attack your joint tissue, mistakenly thinking it’s an invader. Your joints swell and stiffen. Both types of arthritis can be painful and debilitating. The good news is physical therapy can help reduce pain and increase mobility. 

What is the purpose of physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a non-invasive healthcare practice that helps you restore and maintain movement and physical function. For example, it helps you recover after suffering a broken ankle, an ankle replacement, or a bunion operation performed by Dr. McAlister.

Your physical therapist, a highly trained medical professional, assesses your individual needs, and develops an exercise and strengthening program to help you regain mobility, improve balance and flexibility, and decrease the physical pain.

During physical therapy, your therapist leads you through a variety of exercises designed to strengthen the muscles supporting your joints, help improve balance, increase mobility, and reduce pain. Physical therapy can also help prevent re-injury. 

How can physical therapy help control my arthritis symptoms?

It seems counterintuitive, but exercising your injured joint in specific, gentle ways, helps it heal. The old adage, “use it or lose it” applies here. Your muscles and joints can stiffen and atrophy if you’re not moving.

For foot and ankle injuries, your physical therapy will likely involve the following types of modalities and exercises:

These practices help reduce stiffness and pain. They get your blood moving which helps increase flexibility and movement. They also strengthen muscles which help relieve pressure on your joints.

Physical therapy doesn’t stop when you complete each appointment. Dr. McAlister emphasizes the importance of performing the exercises each day at home. Exercising once or twice a week during your physical therapy session is not enough to build strength or decrease your pain. As you start to show improvement, Dr. McAlister may change up your exercise routine to further improve strength, flexibility, and balance.

For more information on how physical therapy can help improve mobility when you have arthritis, contact our office to book an appointment today. 

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