Arthritis is the destruction of cartilage in joints caused by inflammatory conditions, or due to age, wear and obesity. It is a very common condition and is responsible for joint pain and stiffness, loss of mobility and disability
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). The cartilage, a softer tissue that lines the weight-bearing surface of joints, is gradually damaged, thinned and worn away, usually by years of repeated strain. This strain may come from work, sport and leisure activities. It is often associated with being overweight and obese. It is most common in older people, though can have relatively early onset in people whose sport, occupation or weight puts them at increased risk. There is no inflammation in the joints, though affected areas can be very painful and stiff. The spine, hips, knees, ankles, feet, hands and shoulders are most commonly affected.
Inflammatory arthropathies, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, also cause joint pain and stiffness. These are not caused by age or “wear and tear”. They are auto-immune diseases, where for no known reason, the body’s immune system begins to attack the joints, wearing the cartilage away with powerful inflammatory reactions. The joints become swollen, red and very painful. These diseases are episodic. That is, they come and go, in episodes and remissions.
Physiotherapy for Arthritis
OA leads to joint pain and stiffness, muscle weakness, joint deformity and contracture (inability to completely straighten or bend joints). These problems, or consequences of OA, usually respond very well to physiotherapy. It should be emphasised that physiotherapy will not cure the problem, but can manage the consequences, improving mobility and easing pain.
Physiotherapy has less of a role to play in inflammatory arthropathies, but can be helpful during remissions to mobilise and strengthen joints. During episodes, physiotherapy may be useful in pain relief and splinting affected joints.