Physical therapy can be beneficial as part of a treatment plan for people with psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Knowing when and how to work with a physical therapist can have a positive effect on PsA symptoms and disease management.

PsA is a chronic inflammatory joint disease. It causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness and eventually leads to joint degeneration. It often occurs alongside psoriasis, which is an immune-mediated condition that causes inflamed, scaly patches to develop on the skin.

Treatment for PsA aims to reduce inflammation and prevent damage to joints, ligaments, and tendons. Typically, doctors prescribe medications for people with the condition. These may include NSAIDs in mild cases and biologics in more severe cases.

Complementary therapy options may also be beneficial for people with PsA. For example, physical therapy can be a useful treatment strategy. People can use physical therapy alongside medication, but it may be sufficient as a stand-alone treatment if a person has only mild symptoms or cannot tolerate medication.

Physical therapy for PsA may involve guided exercises, stretching, and strength training. These activities can help people with the condition manage the symptoms that affect their quality of life.

Physical therapy might also help people learn to cope better with flares and find ways to compensate for any changes in their range of motion or abilities as the disease progresses.

However, there is little research on physical therapy’s effect on people with PsA. Most information is anecdotal or comes from research that looked at other types of arthritis.

This article discusses why physical therapy might be a good option for people with PsA. It also looks at when to begin these treatments and what to expect from them.

Anyone who is experiencing enough pain and stiffness to consider seeking physical therapy should do so as soon as possible. In general, the sooner a person with PsA begins physical therapy, the better.

Some doctors may refer people with PsA to a physical therapist even before their symptoms start to interfere with daily tasks. Early intervention can help people avoid injuries. A physical therapist can also teach a person new ways to do work or chores so that they do not place stress on their joints.

The joint pain and stiffness that PsA causes can limit movement, making a person more likely to be sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Research suggests that, as a result of chronic inflammation, people with PsA already have a 43% higher risk of cardiovascular disease than the general population. Specifically, they have increased rates of heart attack, cerebrovascular disease, and heart failure.

However, alongside increased movement and exercise, physical therapy can help reduce these risks while also reducing the symptoms of PsA. As a result, it will likely be beneficial for a person with PsA to see a physical therapist for an individualized plan that they can begin using when the disease is in its early stages.

Although it might seem counterintuitive to recommend physical activity and exercise to people who have stiff, swollen joints, regular exercise is usually beneficial for people with PsA. Movement helps the joints remain mobile and functional.

Physical therapy may also help people combat conditions that make the symptoms of PsA worse, including obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

The potential benefits of physical therapy for PsA include:

  • improved range of motion and flexibility
  • reduced symptoms, including joint stiffness and pain
  • individualized fitness plans
  • instruction on how to participate safely in activities such as yoga, biking, and stretching
  • education on therapies, such as heat and cold therapy
  • instruction on how to use assistive devices for daily activities
  • instruction on movement modifications to make daily tasks easier and protect the joints

Regular movement and exercise can help a person with PsA improve their cardiovascular health and conditioning. People with PsA have an increased risk of cardiovascular-related health issues, including heart attack, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. Exercise can help combat the lifestyle factors that contribute to these conditions.

Physical therapy can help a person find ways to manage the symptoms of the condition.

Physical therapy may help people manage various symptoms of PsA, including:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • reduced range of motion
  • fatigue
  • sleeplessness

Physical therapy for PsA can take many forms. The best exercises and therapy options for a person will depend on their symptoms, goals, and overall health.

During the initial visits, a physical therapist will work with a person to understand what they are currently capable of doing. From there, they may use one or more types of therapy and techniques.

Types of physical therapy that may be helpful for people with PsA include:

  • gentle exercise
  • stretching
  • strength training
  • joint mobilization
  • soft tissue mobilization
  • use of assistive devices or adaptive equipment
  • posture supports
  • orthotics or splinting that can support the joints to reduce damage and pain
  • hydrotherapy, which involves water-based exercises that allow for movement without placing weight on the joints

If a person has health insurance, their plan may cover physical therapy for PsA. Insurance companies set different structures and reimbursement schedules for physical therapy visits. Each insurance plan will have specific allowances for visits and activities.

A person should call their health insurance company prior to an initial physical therapy appointment. The insurance company should be able to provide an outline of what it will cover and what is the person’s responsibility.

Some insurance companies will require a customer to have a direct referral to a physical therapist from a doctor before they will cover the costs. A person can work with a doctor to get a recommendation and referral so that they have insurance coverage for the physical therapy appointments.

People looking to find a physical therapist for PsA should speak with a doctor who treats PsA.

Rheumatologists, or doctors who specialize in inflammatory conditions, frequently consult with and refer people to physical therapists. Therefore, they should be able to recommend a suitable physical therapist in the local area.

Alternatively, a person could consider contacting professional organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology, which can provide lists of local physical therapists. These organizations may also know of physical therapists who specialize in the treatment of PsA symptoms.

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic inflammatory joint disease that can cause stiff joints, decreased range of motion, and pain, alongside other symptoms. The standard treatment is medication that reduces inflammation. Complementary therapies, such as physical therapy, also play a role.

Physical activity can help ease the symptoms of PsA and improve quality of life. It can also help a person improve their cardiovascular health to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

A physical therapist can help people with PsA learn to move and exercise safely, which can help them avoid making the symptoms worse. Overall, the sooner a person begins working with a physical therapist, the better.