Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of the cartilage at the end of the bones, resulting in degeneration of the joints. Osteoarthritis is common in the knees, hips, spine, and hands.

Physical therapy is one of the many conservative options to treat osteoarthritis. Physical therapy is used to treat osteoarthritis from the most mild to severe cases. Although physical therapy may not replace the degeneration that has occurred in the joint, physical therapy can help reduce inflammation, regain lost range of motion at the joint, reduce pain, strengthen the muscles around the joint, and help increase muscle flexibility.

These benefits may help manage the pain in order to prolong the need for joint replacement surgery or in more mild cases physical therapy may improve quality of life and avoid the need for surgery altogether.

Unfortunately, more severe cases of osteoarthritis may require surgery. Total joint replacements are the surgical procedure to remove the damaged areas of the joint in order to restore normal function.

A total joint replacement will require intense physical therapy post surgery; however, consider trying physical therapy before your surgery, known as “prehabilitation” or “pre-hab.”

Research is continuing to demonstrate the benefits of rehabilitation before surgery by using physical therapy. Improving your pain and limitations in inflammation, strength, range of motion, and flexibility prior to surgery may allow for smoother recovery and less hospitalization time. Moreover, you will be able to meet your physical therapist and be comfortable in the environment that you will be performing your rehabilitation in post-operative as well as benefit from the patient education the physical therapist will provide during your sessions.

Consider an initial examination from a physical therapist to help address your osteoarthritis, whether you are at the very beginning stages of treating the condition or preparing for surgery and want to participate in a few sessions of prehabilitation.

At the Center for Physical Therapy, we have the option to include traditional land-based physical therapy and aquatic physical therapy in our Wappingers Falls and Hyde Park locations.

Research demonstrates both types of physical therapy have been found to be very beneficial in managing the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. The land-based sessions may include hands-on techniques with a physical therapist, strengthening, balance and flexibility exercises, gait training with or without an assistive device for walking, as well as modalities such as heat, cryotherapy, taping techniques and electric stimulation.

The aquatic therapy sessions include many of the similar sitting and standing stretching and strengthening exercises from land, as well as some more advanced exercises in varying depths of water. Thanks to the buoyancy principle of water, the water “lifts” you up, supporting your body weight. For example, in waist-level water, you are about 50 percent of your body weight and at shoulder level you are close to 90 percent of your body weight. As a result, there is less stress on the joints because you feel light in the pool.

In addition, the aquatic physical therapy pool temperature utilizes warm water, allowing your muscles to relax. The combination of the buoyancy and warmth allows your body to move more freely compared to trying the same exercises or functional movements on land. There are many other benefits to aquatic therapy, schedule an appointment to further discuss how aquatic therapy may help your condition.

Article by Victoria Luddy