PHYSIO Treatment for osteoarthritis 

Can Physiotherapy help in the Treament of Osteoarthritis?

Short answer is YES! There are multiple ways in which physiotherapy can help in the treatment of osteoarthritis. But before we get into that, let’s do a quick rundown on what Osteoarthritis is!

Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that mainly affects people of any age; however, it typically occurs in older adults (this is literally due to having spent more time using your joints in combination with decreased bone density that comes with age.). Osteoarthritis happens when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time, exposing the bone surface to direct stress from other bony surfaces. This can eventually result in changes in the joint surface which results in pain, inflammation, stiffness, and reduced joint flexibility.

Now whilst this might sound harsh and horrific, it is a natural result of joint use. As a matter of fact, it is quite common to have signs of Osteoarthritis on imaging, without having any pain or symptoms. This highlights the prevalence and normality of this condition. Osteoarthritis commonly affects weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, but is also often seen in the hands, and fingers. Osteoarthritis can also develop in the vertebrae (like any other bone) however has been proven to not necessarily cause pain (this is a topic for another day!!)

Osteoarthritis differs from inflammatory arthritic conditions such as Rheumatoid and Psoriatic Arthritis to name a couple. The main difference between Osteoarthritis and inflammatory conditions is location and behaviour of symptoms. Osteoarthritis tends to develop over time, and typically affects one joint. Symptoms tend to be significantly related to activity and often resolve with rest. Whereas inflammatory arthritic conditions are systemic and affect multiple joints, with symptoms being much more spontaneous and unrelenting. and typically develops gradually. Osteoarthritis does not spread throughout the body, nor does it necessarily worsen on its own accord.

Common symptoms and signs of Osteoarthritis.

  • Pain is often worse in the morning and eases with movement.

  • Pain is also worse following sustained sitting and again this tends to ease with movement.

  • The joint often presents as swollen, red and hot.

  • In progressed cases people may experience loss of joint range of movement.

Common risk factors of Osteoarthritis.

  • Age – this is a natural part of using our joints, as well as the fact that we experience a decrease in bone density as we age.

  • Gender – OA tends to be more common in females, especially after menopause, whereby hormonal changes influence bone density.

  • Obesity – the more load a joint must tolerate, the more vulnerable the joint is to OA.

  • Previous Joint injury – previous disruption to the joint lining can increase the risk of OA, for example ACL rupture and or meniscus tears increase the chances of developing knee OA.

The role of Physiotherapy in the

management of osteoarthritis.

Can physiotherapy cure Osteoarthritis? Unfortunately, the answer is no, and there is no current cure for OA (except for surgery technically!). But fear not! While there’s no cure, physiotherapy can be quite successful in managing Osteoarthritis. Continue reading on to find out how.

Assessment of Symptoms

Let’s start at the start! To establish effective treatment, it’s important to assess how the patient is affected by their Osteoarthritis, and more importantly what the patient is wanting to get back to! Often, people come in with a diagnosis of Osteoarthritis and have been referred from a surgeon or doctor. However, as physiotherapists we still need to assess joint range of motion, strength, severity of symptoms and exclude differential diagnoses and much more.

Physiotherapy treatment

for Osteoarthritis

Massage and other passive modalities can play a role in symptom relief of Osteoarthritis, but rarely is it effective as other forms of treatment such as exercise and load management.

Education on the condition

and load management 

I believe that learning more about any condition, gives you back power over your pain. This is case with Osteoarthritis as well, in learning how to manage your loads without excessively aggravating your pain you can begin to get some consistency in your symptoms. It is in doing so, that we can create room for exercised based rehab.

Physiotherapy Exercises

for Osteoarthritis

There are a range of exercise options for Osteoarthritis and they will obviously vary based on location of symptoms as well as severity of symptoms. Let’s use the knee for an example, as it is one of the more commonly seen joints. But rather than list a bunch of specific exercises, I’ll talk through my process (this is because there are tonnes of exercises, and there is no cookie cutter recipe!)

  • I personally tend to focus on low-intensity exercises to begin with. With the aim of gently introducing the joint to load and avoid aggravating symptoms while trying to develop a foundation.

  • Overtime (and if the joint is tolerating these exercises), we can start to increase the intensity of the program. This can be achieved through adding more weight and if possible, performing single limb variations.

  • The important factors to consider with any exercise prescription is to make it achievable overtime without aggravating the symptoms too much, as well as making it specific to the patient’s goals.

Exercise-based rehabilitation does take time to have a noticeable result. This is unfortunately due to how long it takes for our body to adapt to the stimulus of exercise! But, typically around the 8–12-week mark people notice a discernible improvement in their symptoms. From this point, the process becomes exponentially better, as you tolerate more load you can expose the body to more load and therefore get stronger!!


To sum this all up, Osteoarthritis is a common condition more commonly found in the weight-bearing joints of the body. Physiotherapy is integral in the management of Osteoarthritis and can help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life! Exercise-based rehabilitation is arguably the most effective form of management in Osteoarthritis, with the theory being that improving joint strength, reduces the overall loads experienced by the joint, thus reducing aggravation and pain. So if you struggle with Osteoarthritis and are unsure of what to do, hopefully this article has given you some direction!

Thanks for reading,





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