Physiotherapy is often part of a well-balanced treatment plan for many of the more than 100 types of arthritis. It focuses on maintaining, restoring or improving physical function as well as preventing and managing pain, through the use of non-medication treatments.

Physiotherapists assess the level of mobility, strength, and physical function of a person living with disease or injury. As well, they examine relevant x-rays and laboratory tests (for example, blood tests). Then, using that assessment, the physiotherapist develops a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to the client's needs. Some of the treatments used by physiotherapists include:

Thermotherapy (application of heat or cold)
One of the chief tools for pain management used by physiotherapists is the application of heat or cold to affected joints. For example, before exercise, ice packs can provide short-term relief from pain and swelling which may make it possible to perform exercises that could otherwise be very difficult.

Electrotherapy (electric nerve stimulation)
There a several kinds of electrotherapy. A common one called transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TNS) interferes with the ability of nerves to transmit pain signals to the brain. Physiotherapists may use electrotherapy to reduce pain associated with arthritis.

Manual therapy
Physiotherapists may use manual therapy, a hands-on approach to keep joint structures mobile, to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Some range of motion and stretching exercises fall under this category.

Physical activity is a critically important area for managing arthritis. Exercises may be designed to improve strength, mobility, and flexibility. These exercises also help to improve a client's pain and overall well being. There are three general types of exercise used in physiotherapy:
  • Range-of-motion exercises: these are designed to take joints through as full a range of motion as possible, to help keep people with arthritis-especially inflammatory types-from losing mobility in affected joints.
  • Strengthening exercises: these are intended to help people with arthritis gain muscle mass and increase muscle strength. Strong muscles can help to protect joints.
  • General conditioning exercises: developed to help people with arthritis to maintain general fitness and healthy body weight.


Canadian Physiotherapy Association website, accessed April 29, 2008:

Li, Linda, Andreas Maetzel, James N. Pencharz, Lyn Maguire, Claire Bombardier and the Community Hypertension and Arthritis Project (CHAP). (2004). "Use of Mainstream Nonpharmacological Treatment by Patients with Arthritis" in Arthritis and Rheumatism, Vol. 51 (2): 203-209.

Koehn, C, Taysha Palmer and John Esdaile. (2002) Rheumatoid Arthritis: Planning to Win. New York: Oxford University Press.