Physiotherapy has a large part to play in the overall management of arthritis, and your physiotherapist is trained to understand and treat the physical aspects of the human body. Your individual requirements will be assessed and a range of therapies, such as controlled exercise, manipulation and pain relief techniques, may be employed.

Aims of treatment

Physiotherapy for people with arthritis is aimed at:

reducing pain

improving movement

strengthening muscle power

assisting a person to be independent and functioning as well as is possible.

The range of therapies which may be used include pain relief methods and treatments to relieve pain and stiffness.

Pain relief methods

Pain relief methods may include the following:

Thermal (heat treatments)

These treatments produce heat within your body tissues. The application can be directed towards superficial or deeper parts of the body. The most common types of treatment used are infra-red radiation (heat lamps), wax baths and hot packs for superficial treatments, and microwave diathermy and shortwave diathermy for deep heating treatment.

Electrical treatments (electrotherapy)

These treatments produce electrical stimulation of your body tissues. They may be extremely useful in the treatment of both acute and chronic arthritis, where pain, swelling and muscle spasms are present.

Physical treatments

These treatments include the use of ultrasonic sound waves, ice therapy and traction.

Treatments to relieve pain and stiffness

Controlled exercise and other therapies help to preserve and improve joint function and movement.


A balanced programme of rest and exercise, and careful attention to joint posture is an important part of pain management, joint protection and maintenance of your joint function.

Controlled exercise helps lessen pain and stiffness and improves the strength of muscles and ligaments, so helping to stabilise joints. This is essential in all aspects of self care and particularly important before and after joint surgery.

Also see: Hip joint surgery and Knee joint surgery

Manual therapy

Mobilisation and manipulation techniques are passive movements applied to a joint or soft tissue by the therapist in a specific manner to help restore full movement to a joint that is painful and restricted.

With increased understanding of the structure and movement of the spine and peripheral joints, the usefulness of manipulation in the treatment of arthritis has become much clearer. Manual therapy is often useful in the chronic forms of arthritis and is often successful when other methods such as heat and exercises have given little or no relief.


Hydrotherapy or pool therapy is a very useful means of exercising arthritic joints using the buoyancy of water to assist or resist movement. The warmth of the water increases the circulation and helps reduce muscle spasms, producing more effective movement. Joint mobility, muscle strength and general fitness can be improved with hydrotherapy.