Keys for relief of arthritis pain (Part 1)

by CEO and Physical Therapist Troy Vander Molen, PT, DPT

Troy Vander MolenWhy do we experience pain? Though we do not like to experience it, pain is actually a good thing. I say this because that pain is a message, a sign that damage will increase if you don’t do something about it.

In college, I read one of Philip Yancey’s early works, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, a book that significantly impacted me and my career path. In this book, Yancey, through the experiences of Dr. Paul Brand, describes how the very structure of our bodies gives us insight about the Body of Christ.

Dr. Brand’s career as a physician was spent in large part in India working amongst people afflicted with leprosy (otherwise known as Hansen’s disease). Because he saw firsthand the devastating impact of a leper’s inability to sense things, including pain, Dr. Brand understood that pain was vital for the preservation of healthy tissue in anyone leading a normal life.

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. And this condition commonly results in pain. And that’s a good thing, because it gives you a chance to do something about it.

The most common area to experience arthritis is in the spine. It is, in fact, a normal occurrence in humans.

When you feel pain, what do you do about it? There are typically three choices:

  1. You can ignore it.

Ignoring pain typically involves making excuses. “I’m old.” “It’s the weather.” “My dad had a bad back.” “I’ve tried everything already. It can’t be helped.”

Simply put, making excuses for your pain will not help you heal. Excuses only assign blame and shifts the responsibility of health on someone else.

  1. You can try to cover it up.

Most people who seek help for their pain will be offered ways to mask the pain with medications, injections, or unnecessary surgery. (Disclaimer: There are some surgeries that are absolutely necessary. Many, though, are not.) These options rarely address the cause of the joint pain.

  1. You can fix it.

People who handle arthritic pain best deal with it early. This means that if they have pain, they may wait a few days or a week, but, if the pain persists, they seek the best arthritic pain specialists in their area and follow the expert’s advice.

If you are a person who likes to fix the real problem, not just mask the symptoms, you will want to read the section below on “How to Find the Best PT in Your Area.”

What is the Most Important Exercise to Do for Arthritis Pain?

chandler_2012jun07_0929Walking is by far the single best exercise for long term neck and back health. People who walk for 30 minutes or more six days a week enjoy many benefits:

  • Better heart health
  • Improved mood and self esteem
  • Improved concentration and brain power
  • Longer life
  • Better spine health

How does walking lead to a healthier spine?

Every time you take a step, the spine goes through a small, up and down oscillation like the movement of an accordion.  The space between the bones in your back does not have a blood supply.  So it relies on the up and down movement with walking, jogging or running for nutrients and for better health.

Swimming and biking have been shown to have similar effects.

How to Find the Best PT in Your Area for Back and Neck Arthritis

img_2001Not all physical therapy interventions are the same. Successful physical therapy treatment involves three things:

  1. Managing the pain at the site – When something hurts, it needs relief. There are specific treatments (i.e. modalities, traction, taping techniques) to help the inflamed tissue feel better, which is the first step in fixing the problem.
  1. Improving movement and strength locally – An area of local inflammation will often result in local changes at the involved tissue. Manual treatments, as well as strength/stability exercises, often help alleviate those changes.
  1. Functional approach – It is my experience that almost every physical therapy provider offers the previous two treatment approaches. In fact, so do other practitioners like chiropractors. While these approaches can help you feel better, they usually do not help you function better. The root problem has not been addressed, so the likelihood that your pain will return remains.

So, how do you find the best physical therapist in your area? This is what I recommend no matter where you live: When you call to schedule an appointment for your condition, ask the receptionist if the provider has advanced training in functional treatment approaches. In other words, does the provider fix both the pain and the problem?

A simple way to discern this is to ask whether the treatment sessions are primarily passive and occur on a treatment table or instead are active with the client spending time on his/her feet. Ask if the provider will assess your entire movement system including the areas above and below the spine. The latter is the only way to ensure that a person can safely and effectively perform the activities of daily living that humans must be able to pursue.


So, instead of cursing the fact that you experience pain, be thankful that your body is able to give you feedback to prevent unnecessary tissue damage.

Don’t be afraid to move. In fact, walking is probably a great activity for you to pursue to help deliver nutrients to the inflamed tissues.

If the pain persists for a few days or a week, seek out a physical therapy expert that understands the real solution to your pain and takes a functional approach. The earlier you get the right advice, the quicker you will feel and function better. And you will reduce the likelihood that the issue occurs in the future.

If you are looking for a bit of quick advice from one of our arthritis experts, contact your local Kinetic Edge clinic today to sign up for one of our free injury screens. Our schedules are busy, but we have set aside ten 20-minute slots in each clinic specifically for our readers who want a quick, complimentary, no-strings-attached assessment of their arthritic pain. Call 866-588-0230 today or email us to secure one of these spots. They will go quickly.

Coming Up

Next month, we will continue on this topic and provide the following information:

  • The second most important exercise for arthritis pain
  • How to naturally deal with inflammation
  • What to avoid for joint health
  • The most surprising way to ensure joint health