The term "arthritis" means joint inflammation. This degenerative joint disease occurs as a result of genetic or hereditary factors, injuries and improper body mechanics. Symptoms of arthritis include pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints.

There are two major forms of arthritis:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

An autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissue. This is a progressive illness that can lead to joint destruction. It affects more than 1.3 million people in the U.S. Unfortunately, the cause is unknown.


The breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage (a protein substance that acts as a cushion between the bone and joint) in a joint. It primarily occurs as part of aging from a lifetime of wear and tear on the joints. It may also be caused by disease, such as diabetes. Roughly 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoarthritis.

There is a tendency among people who have arthritis to try not to move the joint for fear of pain. But pain and stiffness in joints worsens without regular movement. A physical therapist can put together an individualized treatment plan that keeps arthritis sufferers moving and helps reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy is used to reduce joint inflammation and pain, maximize joint function and prevent joint destruction or deformity.

Physical therapy for arthritis is designed to:

  • recover lost range of motion and maintain joint mobility
  • regain strength
  • improve body mechanics
  • provide functional training to help the individual live with the limitation they may experience from a deteriorating joint

In most cases, arthritis sufferers are prescribed a program of daily exercise and movement. This may be combined with the application of hot or cold packs and/or electronic muscle stimulation to reduce inflammation and pain before or after exercise.