Arthritis: Non-surgical Treatments

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Physical Therapy and Exercise
In addition to medications, many people with arthritis can find relief from physical therapy and exercise. Physical therapy is a treatment method that focuses on pain relief, healing, restoring function and movement, improving body mechanics, as well as overall fitness and wellness.
Woman in a physical therapy sessionYour doctor will prescribe physical therapy as part of your treatment plan and will refer you to a physical therapist. Your doctor will prescribe physical therapy as part of your treatment plan and will refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapists are rehabilitation professionals trained in the variety of exercises and treatment options that are appropriate for arthritis sufferers. Your therapist will work closely with your doctor and you to develop an exercise regimen specifically for you.

Exercising can help arthritis sufferers in many ways. Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility, muscle strength and endurance. It also helps with weight reduction, which is important since extra weight can place too much pressure on joints.

Types of Exercise
Generally, there are 3 types of exercises that are appropriate for people with arthritis.

  • Range-of-motion exercises:  These exercises should be done daily to help maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness, and increase flexibility. Range-of-motion exercises for the spine may include bending forward, back, and to each side.
  • Strengthening exercises: These exercises can also be done every day (unless you have severe pain) to help increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis. Your therapist will instruct you on proper ways to lift and flex during these exercises.
  • Endurance or aerobic exercises: These exercises can be done 3 times a week for 20 to 30 minutes. They improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function. Examples include walking and bike riding.

Watch our video series on spondylosis exercises.

Other Therapies
In addition to therapeutic exercise, your therapist may use other treatments.

  • Heat therapy: Warm towels or heat packs are placed on the spine to relieve pain by increasing blood flow and relaxing tissues.
  • Cold therapy:  Ice packs or ice massage applied to painful areas of the spine to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Water therapy:  Exercising in a large pool to reduce pressure on the spine. The heat and movement of whirlpools may also provide pain relief.
  • Massage: This can help increase flexibility and circulation. Be sure to find a trained professional who is experienced in treating people with arthritis.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This is a type of therapy in which electrodes are applied to the back and a mild electrical current is sent to specific nerves.

Many people continue their exercise programs even after their prescribed physical therapy is finished. Your therapist will instruct you on the proper ways to do your exercises at home and give you tips on how to continue your treatment on your own.

You can also visit the Practical Pain Management Osteoarthritis Center. That's our sister site, and it includes in-depth information reviewed by osteoarthritis and chronic pain experts.

Another area of treatment for arthritis pain involves the use of braces or "assistive devices" to help support your back and/or relieve pain. Spinal bracing can help control back pain by limiting motion and relieving pressure on the vertebrae. Your doctor will let you know if bracing is an option for you. In addition, devices such as canes, splints, or walkers may also help you get around easier and with less pain.

Updated on: 01/25/18
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Arthritis: Alternative Treatments
Harry N. Herkowitz, MD
It is critical to exercise if you have spinal arthritis. You should do general exercise for 30 minutes every day. Exercise might include walking, biking, swimming, treadmill or stationary bike. You should also do stretching and strengthening exercises as outlined in this article. A physical therapist can instruct you in the proper program. The use of therapy modalities, e.g. heat, massage and ultrasound are useful when pain and spasm are limiting activities.
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Arthritis: Alternative Treatments

A few common alternative treatments that many people have found to be helpful for spinal arthritis.
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