Health and Wellbeing

Physiotherapy for Arthritis – Myths and Facts

Oct 20 2016

We help clear up a few misconceptions about the leading cause of joint pain – Osteoarthritis. Listed below are a few common things we hear from patients. We also discuss the benefits of physiotherapy for arthritis.

1. “My bones are crumbling and that is what’s causing my pain”

Myth. Having arthritis does not mean your bones are crumbling. To help explain what is happening, let’s first start with a healthy joint…

There are several components to a joint. Joints are made up of two bones that are covered in a smooth, glossy layer called ‘cartilage’. A lubricant is constantly washing over them to keep them healthy. The lubricant is produced and held within a capsule surrounding the bones.

In a healthy joint, there are ‘builder cells’ constantly laying down healthy new cartilage. They also take older bits of cartilage away to keep the joint in top working order!

As we get older, these builder cells can get a bit confused and carried away! They no longer build the cartilage in a smooth, glossy style. Instead, they thin and leave little divots in the lining. The capsule becomes inflamed and does not produce as much lubricant, causing swelling and stiffness. Sometimes, the builder cells also build tiny extensions of bone within the joint space.

This cascade of events can make the joint feel painful, stiff, warm and swollen. It is important to understand that this is all a normal process. Some people have arthritic joints with no symptoms whatsoever! However, for those who do have symptoms, there are options to help arthritis symptoms. A course of Physiotherapy for arthritis can be a simple and effective treatment.

2. “There’s more than one type of arthritis”

Fact. Arthritis is an umbrella term used for ‘inflammation in the joints’. OSTEO-arthritis is the most common form of arthritis. When people refer to ‘arthritis’ this is often the type that they mean.

Here is a brief overview of other types of arthritis you might not have heard of:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

This is an autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. Your immune system decides to attack your joints. This is a hereditary form of arthritis which often affects smaller joints in the body i.e fingers or toes.It is often treated with medication and exercise.


Lupus is another autoimmune inflammatory form of arthritis. It not only affects the joints but the kidneys, skin, blood and various other organs. Lupus is treated with medication. Exercise can also be very beneficial.


Gout is another inflammatory form of arthritis. It occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood. Gout is successfully treated with medication.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Up to 30% of people with psoriasis can develop psoriasis-related arthritis. This is as a result of their inflammatory skin disease.

3. “Arthritis is affected by the seasons”

Fact. You heard it right! There really is some science behind why your arthritis could feel achier in the colder months…

There has been plenty of research on the topic and it has been agreed that pain can be altered by the barometric pressure and colder temperature.

We know that in an arthritic joint there are often formations of little divots in the cartilage. These have their own pressure – similar to the joint itself. When the barometric pressure outside the joint increases, this changes the pressure inside of the divot, within the joint! This phenomenon can stimulate receptors in the bone of the joint causing pain.

4. “There is no treatment for arthritis, I just have to put up with it”

Myth. This is far from true! There are plenty of options for those who suffer with arthritis. Most importantly, you should never feel that you just have to ‘put up with it’.

Physiotherapy is by far the simplest and most effective method for helping arthritis symptoms. Especially, if you’re not keen on going under the knife, taking loads of painkillers, or have any injections.

Physiotherapists will regularly use exercised based therapy to help get your joints moving. They will also help decrease the pain in and around the joint plus strengthen the muscles around the joint. Consequently, this will help allow you to move better.

In addition to this, physiotherapists can prescribe special insoles to help you stand and walk better. There is evidence that this can help arthritis symptoms.

Up to 70% of the pain from an arthritic joint can be due to muscles working too hard to ‘protect the joint’. Physiotherapists have found significant improvement in treating these symptoms with hands-on therapy. This might include deep tissue massage or acupuncture.

Hydrotherapy for arthritis is also a fantastic treatment method for arthritis. It allows you to train the correct muscles in a buoyant environment, offloading the joints and is a more comfortable way to exercise.

5. “You shouldn’t do anything until you have an X-ray or Scan”

Myth. Having a scan or an X-Ray is not the definitive answer for diagnosis or treatment of arthritis. There are several reasons for this…

Research has proven that there is NO correlation between results of a scan and the symptoms you are experiencing. Some people might have an X-Ray of their knee showing major arthritic changes but not have any symptoms. Another person may have the most excruciating symptoms, yet their X-Ray shows only a tiny speck of arthritis!

Why is this? Answer: tissue damage or degeneration DOES NOT equal pain. Pain is an extremely complex phenomenon. It is multifactorial and can be affected by emotional and environmental factors, as well as physical ones.

Taking scan results or an X-Ray to a Physiotherapist is like taking a picture of your faulty car engine and taking it to a car mechanic. This car mechanic won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong with your car from a picture? They need to run tests and have a look at it for themselves! Yes, the picture will identify what state your car is in (i.e how much arthritis there is) or that there isn’t anything very serious going on (no sinister cause of your pain). However, there is little else that they are going to be able to do with a picture! So please don’t worry about these either! Get it assessed and treated appropriately by a Physiotherapist. Physiotherapy for arthritis works.

6. “You shouldn’t exercise with arthritis”

Myth. On the contrary. Doing the RIGHT kind of exercise is extremely beneficial for arthritic joints.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends exercise is incorporated into arthritis sufferers daily routine.

This doesn’t mean you need to be running marathons! Instead, targeted strength training is often prescribed. This works by building the strength around the joint to allow it to work better. It also decreases the joint pain. In addition, general aerobic fitness is also recommended.

At first, it might seem counterintuitive for you to move your stiff or achy joints. It’s therefore advisable that you liaise with a healthcare professional if you plan to embark on a new exercise regime. Your joints will thank you for it!