Physiotherapy Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Physiotherapy Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Have you often heard of osteoarthritis being described as a “wear and tear” condition of the joint? It is a common misconception that osteoarthritis is a condition-based only on heavy or repetitive loads going through the joints over years and years of our working and recreational lives.

This would imply that only people working in heavy industries would get osteoarthritis and that everyone in that industry would be expected to get the same levels of osteoarthritis. Likewise, people who work behind a desk or in a relatively sedate role shouldn’t be exposed to the toils of osteoarthritis.

With this assumption, some people incorrectly concur that if “activity” causes their pain, then “rest” is what will fix it. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth!


What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic musculoskeletal condition, a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. Knee joints, hips, spines, fingers, and hips are the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a condition of the joints that culminates in many factors. Still, fundamentally, it is an imbalance between the body’s natural degradation of old cells and the regeneration of new cells in its natural ageing process.


Physiotherapy Treatment for Osteoarthritis - Enhance Physiotherapy

Symptoms of osteoarthritis

  • Swelling around the joint due to soft tissue inflammation.
  • Experiencing pain after or during movement.
  • Joint stiffness.
  • Bone spurs around the affected joint.
  • Loss of flexibility. 
  • Joint tenderness when applying light pressure. 
  • Popping, crackling or grating sensation. 


Several factors can contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis, including:

  • Cartilage being exposed to too much load all at once (an acute injury).
  • Loads over a long time (overuse injury).
  • Can happen with an average load if the cartilage is diseased to start with.
  • Being overweight.


The treatment of osteoarthritis: The biggest myth

Core to the common mismanagement of osteoarthritis is the concept that people shouldn’t be exercising or exposing their joints to “further wear and tear”, as this will only accelerate their condition.  

A systematic review of randomised control trials was completed by Brica et al. (2018) in the study Impact of exercise on articular cartilage in people at risk of, or with established knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review of randomised control trials.  In this review, Brica et al. (2018) found 9 trials with a total of 14 comparisons of supervised exercise programs versus a control group that did not exercise. These control group comparisons included a range from non-exposure to exercise, to the use of TENS and heat packs, to the use of diet control medications. 

Whilst the quality and consistency among the studies were not optimal, the one consistent outcome that was shown was that the exercise groups did not suffer any further loss or damage to the articular cartilage.

How does a physiotherapist treat osteoarthritis?

It varies from patient to patient how osteoarthritis is treated with physiotherapy. In contrast to a one size fits all approach, the type and intensity of therapy used are determined by a clinical assessment performed by your physiotherapist. 

In addition to exercise programs, massages, walking aids, and electrotherapy, physiotherapy for osteoarthritis can take many forms.

Therefore, patients with osteoarthritis should consult a physiotherapist before beginning any therapy regimen that has not been prescribed specifically.


Physiotherapy Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Does physio help with osteoarthritis in knees?

When knee osteoarthritis is treated with physiotherapy, the pain, swelling, and stiffness associated with it can be significantly reduced, and the joint’s function can be improved. Additionally, it makes walking, bending, kneeling, squatting, and sitting easier. 

You will learn at-home exercises from your physiotherapist to strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee. A simple strengthening of these muscles can help relieve pain caused by knee osteoarthritis.

Physiotherapy combined with supervised exercise can improve the functional status and delay or avoid the need for surgery for patients with knee osteoarthritis.


Does physiotherapy help osteoarthritis of the hip?

Physiotherapy management of osteoarthritis aims to improve strength, mobility, and range of motion. Physiotherapy also helps relieve pain, restore normal hip and leg movement, and aid in pain management and functional adaptations.

Techniques such as manual therapy and massage therapy are frequently used to alleviate pain. While stretching exercises are used to increase mobility. Physiotherapy exercises are designed to increase strength without undue strain during cardio and weight training sessions. Exercises and rest schedules are also devised to help patients recover as quickly as possible.

Final thoughts

Patients with osteoarthritis are highly recommended to undergo physiotherapy since it has a low risk of side effects and offers significant benefits.

At Enhance Physio, we offer the GLA:D program to manage your osteoarthritic knees and hips optimally. GLA:D aims to increase strength, control, and endurance in joints affected by arthritis. This program provides all the information and exercises you need to revolutionise your activity levels again!


Physiotherapy Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Please book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists at Enhance Physio today and discuss our GLA:D program.






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