Is arthritis relief possible without pills or surgery?

Posted on: 03/03/2014

Beverly Miller, Contributing Editor, The Citizen: Living Well February 2014 

Many seniors suffer from painful arthritis. Dr.

Douglas Fye, PT, DPT OCS CKTI, who is Director

of Rehabilitation Services at Auburn Community

Hospital, agreed to answer my questions on the

topic of relief from arthritis pain without pills or



Q: What is arthritis and what causes it? What

are the most common types?


A: Arthritis is defined as acute or chronic

inflammation of a joint surface, usually with

associated joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

Determining the cause of arthritis can be difficult,

because several factors may contribute to

developing arthritis. Some of the risk factors that can

cause arthritis include: Genetics, Age, Weight,

Poor Nutrition, Previous Injury, Occupational

Hazards, Some High-Level Sports, and/or

Illness or Infection. The most common types are

Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).


Q: Is arthritis an inevitable part of growing

older? What can young people do to avoid or

mitigate arthritis as they age?


A: No, arthritis is not an inevitable part of

growing older. However, approximately 12% of

Americans will develop OA and roughly 1.3 million

RA. Young (and all) people can eat nutritious foods,

maintain a healthy weight throughout their life

and exercise regularly to strengthen muscles that

protect the joints to reduce the risk and presence

of arthritis.


Q: Can physical therapy give relief from

arthritis pain? How?


A: Yes, Physical Therapy (PT) can assess the

status of arthritis and provide intervention for acute

exacerbations and chronic symptoms. Therapy

can instruct in better body mechanics and energy

conservation techniques along with learning ways

to reduce the risk of injury or irritation. PT will

design appropriate low/non-impact exercise and

strengthening conditioning programs to increase

the muscle strength around joints and promote

optimal weight management.


Q: How do you evaluate a patient’s condition

and determine the appropriate therapy to help him

or her?


A: To evaluate a patient’s condition the PT

performs several things: taking a history, reviewing

available diagnostics (x-ray results, labs),

physically examining a patient’s strength, flexibility,

endurance, and mobility (including special tests

as indicated), assessing the type and severity of

symptom presence and then designing a treatment

plan to address the findings and involve the

patient’s goals into the appropriate therapy.


Q: How often do patients have to have physical

therapy treatments, and what is a typical time

period (in weeks or months) before relief is



A: Treatment is individualized to the patient

based upon the level of symptoms and dysfunction.

Routinely, a patient may receive PT between 1-3

times a week. Acute exacerbations should have

a rapid relieving in a matter of day(s) and chronic

related problems can be expected to improve more

gradually over a period of weeks.


Q: Do your patients do exercises at home

between treatments? Do they need to continue

these exercises after their treatment period ends?


A: Patients are provided with individualized

exercises and recommendations for activity to

perform at home for carryover of the skilled

therapy intervention. Yes, to best achieve the

identified patient/rehab goal(s) and maintain

their outcomes, patients should continue regular

performance of appropriate exercise and activity.


Q: Have you seen cases where your patients

were able to give up pain killing medication and/

or avoid joint replacement surgery as a result of

successful physical therapy? Please discuss how

this can happen.


A: There are certainly cases where patients

reduce (and occasionally eliminate) the amount

of pain or anti-inflammatory medication they

need after successful physical therapy. Routinely

patients may prolong the time before experiencing

the need to have a joint replacement and of equal

importance is that they are in an improved state of

health and function if they do undergo surgery.


Q: What are the advantages of treating arthritis

pain with physical therapy as opposed to pain

killing medication or surgery?


A: Treatment management is often done

in conjunction (i.e. physician prescribing anti-

inflammatory along with pain relieving medication

while having PT intervention). The benefit of

appropriate medication use enables a patient to be

more comfortable performing PT and promotes an

improved recovery of symptoms while benefitting

from the PT intervention. Medication is meant

to be utilized as a tool to manage the symptoms

of arthritis, not a treatment cure. Surgery is a

corrective measure to replace and restore a

severely arthritic joint (arthroplasty or osteotomy)

that usually is a fi nal decision when the arthritis has

advanced to the point of unrelenting pain and/or

limitation of function and traditional methods are

unsuccessful. PT is still closely involved as once

a patient has surgery, therapy becomes integral in

recovering fully.


Q: Is physical therapy usually covered by



A: Physical therapy services are generally

covered by most insurance though certain

private insurance companies may limit the annual

number of sessions or amount that will be

covered. Insurance companies may require a preauthorization

to begin therapy and there may be

office co-payments required. Auburn Community

Hospital Physical Therapy has contracts with most

insurance groups. It is always suggested to verify

your individual coverage prior to receiving any care.


Q: What advice would you give someone

who is experiencing arthritis pain and who is

considering physical therapy?


A: I recommend they include seeing their primary

care provider (MD, PA, and/or NP) to address

medically related aspects of care for their arthritis

pain while also going to a physical therapist as

soon as able to address existing symptoms and

reduce future problems. The longer someone

waits, the greater the risk of worsening pain and

impact of being limited in functionally doing what

they would like to do. Help is readily available with

physical therapy!


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