According to the latest statistics on chronic joint pain from the Arthritis Society of Canada, an estimated 6 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with arthritis—about 1 in 5 people.
Types of Arthritis
There are many types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common. It was previously thought that arthritis occurs when the cartilage of the joint wears down due to overuse of the joint. But we now know that is not the case. In fact, it is a normal age-related change that has a genetic predisposition. Most people will get it, but the degree to which it causes pain in the joint will vary from person to person. Ironically, many people live with arthritis without experiencing any pain at all. It makes you wonder how that statistic would be different if arthritis equaled chronic joint pain in everyone, doesn’t it?
The next most common risk factor for developing osteoarthritis is having sustained a previous injury to the affected joint, especially one that required some surgical intervention. An example would be if you were a soccer player in college or university who experienced a harsh blow to the knee that required surgical reconstruction of the ligaments. At the time, you got treatment, recovered, and returned to the game. The injury was healed, but the cartilage was exposed to some damage. It wasn’t symptomatic at the time but later became so.
Finally, being overweight was thought to put you at a higher risk for developing osteoarthritis, as additional strain is being put on your knee and hip joints. But there is not really any good evidence to support that notion. What we do know is that being overweight may affect how you feel arthritis-related pain in your knee. Some studies have shown that a 10% loss of body weight can reduce arthritic knee pain by 50%. But let’s not forget the overall benefit that developing a healthy body has on performance and mood, in general.
Physiotherapy and Chiropractic Care for Arthritis
Physiotherapy and chiropractic care helps people who are experiencing chronic joint pain by restoring the normal motion of your joints, improving the strength of your supporting muscles, and improving the way you walk, run, bend, and move. Sometimes the manner in which they get there may not be so obvious. For example, your knee pain may be referred from your back; or, problems in your hip or feet may be contributing to your knee pain. So your therapist will do their due diligence in taking an accurate history of your condition, followed by a thorough examination of your body.
Once this information is collected, your physiotherapist or chiropractor will use it to make clinical diagnosis and create a plan of care. Your treatments are tailored to your specific needs to help you recover quickly and have a more permanent outcome.
Specifically, your physiotherapist or chiropractor will use a combination of exercise, manual therapy, or pain-relieving modalities, like acupuncture or electric stimulation, in the early (or acute) stages when the pain is significant and there may be swelling present. But as this calms down, the focus becomes progressing you through a series of strengthening and weight-bearing exercises. If your joint pain is truly related to arthritis, movement helps to improve joint lubrication – you might even hear your therapist say that “motion is lotion”.
If you had a specific goal of returning to a particular activity, or sport, we will make sure that you get there. Typically this involves performing components of your activity and gradually increasing the intensity, repetition, or duration of each before we put them all back together again. For example, if you are a beer league hockey player who wants to play three times per week, we may build you up to the point where you can play one game a week, and then introduce a second and third game once you have shown that your body is tolerating the progressive load.
You might be looking for (or someone you know recommended) passive modalities like ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), cryotherapy or heat. We have those modalities here, but we are just finding they are not justified in most of the cases we see. Discuss them with your therapist and trust that they will develop the best plan of care for you.
Finally, no rehab program is complete without teaching you strategies to prevent future joint pain and stiffness, and what you can do on your own with the correct therapeutic exercises.
Physiotherapy vs Surgery
In 2017, a panel of experts assembled by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) analyzed 13 studies comparing surgery to physical rehabilitation. They concluded that rehab is just as effective as surgery for relieving pain and restoring function for people with arthritis in their knees and backs. So if you’re suffering from arthritis, it’s wise to consider physiotherapy or chiropractic care. It’s non-invasive, it will help you reduce the pain medication you are taking, and you may be able to spare yourself the expense, pain, and recovery time of surgery.
Contact us to learn more about how Leaps and Bounds Performance Rehab can help you relieve your chronic joint pain!
- The Truth About Arthritis. Arthritis Society of Canada. <www.arthritis.ca>.
- Gutsell, P et al (2019). ‘Does running increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis?’, Evidence-Based Practice, 22(2), pp. 11-12.
- Messier, SP et al (2018). ‘Intentional weight loss for overweight and obese knee osteoarthritis patients: Is more better?’, Arthritis Care & Research, 70(11), pp. 1569-1575.