Treatments for arthritis – Physical therapies

Treatments for arthritis definition

Whether you have a non-inflammatory or inflammatory type of arthritis or even a painful case of gout, there are numerous medications and recommendations to relieve pain and ensure that your joints do not become damaged further.
The doctor will likely recommend a course of physical therapies to help overcome some of the symptoms of arthritis.
The focus of treatment for arthritis is to control pain, minimize joint damage and improve or maintain function and quality of life. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the treatment of arthritis might involve the following:

  • Medications
  • Non-pharmacologic therapies
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Splints or joint assistive aids
  • Patient education and support
  • Weight loss
  • Surgery – joint replacement and joint surgery.


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Non-inflammatory types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis are often treated with pain medications, physical activity, weight loss if the person is overweight and self-management education.

Inflammatory types such as RA, are also treated with these methods along with anti-inflammatory medications (corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)), disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and a relatively new class of drugs known as biologics.

Medications that are used to treat arthritis depend on the type of arthritis. Commonly used arthritis medications include:

  • Analgesics: these reduce pain, but have no effect on inflammation. Examples include acetaminophen (Tylenol), tramadol (Ultram) and narcotics containing oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab).
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): these reduce both pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Some NSAIDs are available as creams or gels, which can be rubbed on joints.
  • Counterirritants: some varieties of creams and ointments contain menthol or capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers spicy. Rubbing these preparations on the skin over your aching joint may interfere with the transmission of pain signals from the joint itself.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): used to treat RA, DMARDs slow or stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Examples include methotrexate (Trexall) and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
  • Biologics: used in conjunction with DMARDs, biologic response modifiers are genetically engineered drugs that target various protein molecules involved in the immune response. Examples include etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade).
  • Corticosteroids: includes prednisone and cortisone, this class of drug reduces inflammation and suppresses the immune system.


See also: “Arthritis Recommendations and Considerations



In combination with medical treatment, self-management of arthritis symptoms is also important.

Key self-management activities include:

  • Learn arthritis management strategies
  • Be active
  • Watch weight
  • See the doctor
  • Protect joints

There are seven important self-management habits that can help you successfully manage your disease:

  • Be organized: keep track of symptoms, pain levels, medications, and possible side effects for consultations with your doctor.
  • Manage pain and fatigue: a medication regimen can be combined with non-medical pain management. Learning to manage fatigue is key to living comfortably with arthritis.
  • Stay active: exercise is beneficial for managing arthritis and overall health.
  • Balance activity with rest: in addition to remaining active, rest is equally important when your disease is active.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet: a healthy diet can help you achieve a healthy weight and control inflammation by eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties and high in antioxidants.
  • Improve sleep: poor sleep can aggravate arthritis pain and fatigue, there are measures that can be put in place to make sure you fall asleep and stay asleep such as avoiding caffeine or strenuous exercise in the evenings.
  • Joint care: tips for protecting joints include using your stronger, larger joints as levers when opening doors, using several joints to spread the weight of an object such as using a backpack and gripping as loosely as possible by using padded handles.

Do not sit in the same position for long periods; take regular breaks to keep mobile.

Physical therapies

The doctor will often recommend a course of physical therapies to help overcome some of the symptoms of arthritis. These may include any or all of the following:

  • Warm water therapy – exercises in a warm-water pool. The water supports weight and puts less pressure on the muscles and joints.
  • Physical therapy – specific exercises tailored to the condition and individual needs, sometimes combined with pain-relieving treatments such as ice or hot packs and massage.
  • Occupational therapy – practical advice on managing everyday tasks, choosing specialized aids and equipment, protecting the joints from further damage and managing fatigue.

Physical activity

Research suggests that although individuals with arthritis may experience short-term increases in pain when exercise is first initiated, through continued physical activity, there is a long-term reduction of symptoms.

People with arthritis can participate in joint-friendly physical activity on their own or with friends. Some of the joint-friendly physical activities that are appropriate for adults with heart disease and arthritis are the following:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Riding a bike

Living with arthritis is not easy and carrying out simple, everyday tasks can often be painful and difficult. However, there are many things you can do, and discuss with your doctor, to make sure you live a healthy lifestyle and have a better quality of life.