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Osteoarthritis treatments: podiatry, phyisiotherapy, occupational therapy

Lesley Dobson / 19 November 2015

If you’re living with osteoarthritis, find out how the experts can make your life easier.

Physiotherapy for knee pain
Specialist physiotherapists are experts at treating issues with joints and muscles. Photo posed by models.

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you don’t have to struggle on alone – highly trained experts are there to help

Physiotherapy for osteoarthritis

Seeing a physiotherapist is an important part of your treatment. They can help you become more active, and more able to do things for yourself, so that you can be more independent.

Specialist physiotherapists are experts at treating issues with joints and muscles, so can give you expert advice that is designed for you.

Physiotherapists can put together an exercise programme aimed specifically at the movements you find most difficult. They may also be able to provide pain relief in the form of massage, acupuncture, and heat and ice packs.

If you aren’t already seeing a physiotherapist, ask your GP if you can be referred for physiotherapy.

Unsure how to approach your GP for the help you need? Read our guide

Occupational Therapy for osteoarthritis

Occupational therapists (OTs) help people with arthritis and other conditions manage the more practical areas of their daily lives.

They provide support and advice for people whose health stops them carrying on doing normal activities, things as simple as filling a kettle or opening a door. Some OTs are specifically trained to deal with difficulties caused by arthritis.

Occupational therapists can help you by showing you how to use your joints without putting too much stress on them. They can advise you on equipment that will make your home life easier, such as devices that help you turn on taps.

Other aids include can openers designed for people who have arthritis in the joints in their hands, and levers to replace doorknobs, so you don’t have to twist anything to open a door.

OTs can also teach you exercises that will help you with hand and wrist movements, and improve your grip.

These specialists can also help by teaching you relaxation techniques, and help you plan your day so you don’t become over-tired.

If you aren’t already seeing an occupational therapist, ask your GP, consultant or Social Services to refer you to one.

Podiatry for osteoarthritis

Our feet are complex structures, with 26 bones, and more than 30 small joints. Osteoarthritis can affect of these joints, but it’s often found in the big toe joint, which becomes stiffer, and doesn’t have as wide a range of movement as it used to.

Osteophytes – knobbly overgrowths of new bone  can appear, and you may also find that you develop a bunion.

Osteoarthritis can also develop in the arch of your foot, and in your ankles, especially if it has been damaged in the past.

If you have osteoarthritis in your feet it’s quite common to also have it in your hips, knees and other joints. This can make walking difficult.

So what can you do to get back on your feet? Podiatrists – also known as chiropodists – are experts in foot care and will be able to give you advice on how to look after your feet.

They will suggest the right kind of footwear for your particular problem, and may suggest the right insoles (or orthoses) for your shoes. These can help you feel more comfortable, reduce pain in the arch of your foot, and may help you feel less tired.

You can ask your GP to refer you to an NHS podiatrist. If they can’t make a referral, you can contact a private podiatrist, however you will have to pay for this treatment.

Make sure that any podiatrist you see is registered with the Health Professionals Council (HPC), and describe themselves as a podiatrist (or chiropodist).

Shoe shopping advice if you have osteoarthritis

It’s important to wear light, comfortable shoes that don’t rub your feet, and don’t make walking hard for you. When you’re shopping for shoes remember this useful advice from Arthritis Research UK:

  • Shop in the late afternoon – if your feet swell throughout the day this will be when they’re at their largest
  • Have your feet measured if you can, while standing up - osteoarthritis can change the shape of your feet.
  • Many of us have one foot bigger than the other – always buy the size that fits the bigger foot.
  • Only buy shoes that feel comfortable straight away – don’t hope they’ll get better as you wear them in.
  • Buy shoes that have leather uppers and inners. Leather is more breathable than synthetic materials, so you’re less likely to have damp shoes and fungal infections.
  • Laces can be awkward to do up when you have osteoarthritis, so look out for shoes with Velcro or zip fastenings.

If you are seeing a podiatrist, ask their advice on footwear – and insoles – before you buy new shoes.

If you are struggling with putting on your socks, tights and shoes, ask your occupational therapist for advice, or go to the Disabled Living Foundation’s website. The DLF has a range of Fact sheets, including walking equipment, personal alarm systems, equipment for showering or bathing and more information to help you at home and out and about.

Want to stay stylish but need clothes and shoes that are easier to put on? Read our guide to adaptive clothing

If you need more information on arthritis, go to the Arthritis Research


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.