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Exercise, physical therapy offer relief to arthritis sufferers, says Bellevue PT

Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and difficulty in walking or climbing stairs. And while all these symptoms may suggest limiting activities as much as possible to avoid aggravating the points, Bellevue physical therapist and geriatric certified specialist Paul Gardner disagrees.

“On the contrary, exercise is critical to managing arthritis,” said Gardner, Administrator of Community Rehab for Hillcrest Rehab Services in the greater Omaha area. For example, exercise:

  • Strengthens muscles around the joints, lessening the stress on the joints;
  • Maintains bone strength;
  • Increases energy and stamina;
  • Controls weight (weight can significantly impact affected hip, knee and ankle joints); and
  • Improves balance, reducing the potential for falls and missteps.

“Overall, exercise enhances the quality of life, even for older adults suffering from arthritis,” Gardner said.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some form of arthritis, making it the leading cause of disability in the US.

There are many types of arthritis, but they have in common an inflammatory response to deteriorating cartilage in the joints. Symptoms include swelling of the joint(s), pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

Physical therapy’s role is to teach people with arthritis how to do activities with an eye to protecting the affected joints and help them be aware of their limitations, Gardner says.

An exercise program designed by a physical therapist will likely recommend a combination of range-of-motion movements to relieve stiffness and improve flexibility, as well as strength building (i.e., weight training) to build or maintain muscle tone. The program may also include low-impact aerobics to improve cardiovascular health, control weight and increase stamina, as well as practices such as yoga or tai chi, which help improve balance, posture, coordination, and relaxation.

The physical therapist will also encourage clients to follow through with activities of daily living such as mowing the lawn, walking the dog or cleaning house.

“Movement is important on every level,” said Gardner, who offers the following recommendations:

  • Low-impact exercises, such as riding a stationary bike or water routines, to keep joint stress low while moving;
  • Heat (warm towels or a warm shower) to alleviate pain before beginning an exercise;
  • Gentle, slow movements, taking care to respect movement limitations; and
  • Ice after exercise, if joints are swollen or particularly painful.

Finally, Gardner suggests keeping in mind that not all pain is harmful.

“Muscle soreness after an activity is good,” he said. “It’s a positive response, showing that muscles groups are working and gaining strength.”

Learn how the team at Hillcrest Physical Therapy can assist you in reducing your arthritis pain through exercise by calling (402) 682-4210 or visiting the Hillcrest Physical Therapy web page. To sign up for the monthly e-newsletter and receive articles such as this in your inbox, visit