Physical therapy may help ease arthritis symptoms, reduce the need for pain medication, and even delay or negate the need for surgery.

Physical therapy for arthritis may include exercises to improve joint mobility and tips on posture and movement that can help a person work around pain and avoid injuries.

Some physical therapists recommend supportive devices or changes to an individual’s living environment to further reduce arthritis pain.

The specific physical therapy program a person needs, including how frequently they need sessions and how much progress they make, depends on the type of arthritis they have, its severity, lifestyle, health, and other factors.

This article explores how physical therapy for arthritis can help.

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Physical therapy is a standard treatment for many different types of arthritis.

It can help people regain mobility and reduce pain, and it may help a person delay or avoid surgery in other cases. Doctors may also recommend physical therapy after surgery.

Numerous studies have documented the benefits of physical therapy for arthritis.

A 2019 study assessed the efficacy of several nondrug arthritis treatments by looking at eight systematic reviews. It found that exercise and physical therapy reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and eased pain.

Similarly, a 2019 paper claimed that supervised, active treatment, including physical and exercise therapy, is the best treatment for knee and hip osteoarthritis. The authors added that exercise should serve as the first line of treatment and that manipulative physical therapy should comprise the second line.

A 2018 paper agreed with these findings, arguing that physical therapy exercises and adaptations in a person’s environment could help them cope.

Physical therapy, especially physical therapy that includes exercise, offers many benefits for arthritis. These include:

  • Helping work around injuries: Individuals with pain and injuries may move in ways that cause additional injuries or pain. Physical therapy can help a person safely work around these injuries. For example, a physical therapist can teach a person how to use a walker without stooping or adopting a posture that causes back pain.
  • Strengthening muscles and improving joint mobility: People with arthritis may be reluctant to exercise because they believe it will worsen their condition. Physical therapy helps them exercise safely, strengthening muscles and joints. This can help prevent pain from a sedentary lifestyle, promote general strength, and improve mobility.
  • Reducing pain: Physical therapy may help reduce pain by strengthening muscles and joints and reducing secondary complications from a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Modifying the environment: Various environmental modifications, including using certain devices, may ease arthritis symptoms. Physical therapists may recommend these modifications and teach people how to use devices such as canes and braces.
  • Working around injuries: Physical therapists can teach people how to adapt to injuries and pain in a way that does not make them worse.

Many types of physical therapy can help with arthritis. They include:

  • Manipulation: A physical therapist moves the affected joint or surrounding area and may massage inflamed tissue.
  • Exercise therapy: A physical therapist gives specific exercises to overcome muscle weaknesses or work around injuries.
  • Orthotic support: A therapist recommends specific devices to make movement easier.
  • Post-surgical physical therapy: A therapist helps a person regain functioning after surgery.

The type of physical therapy a person needs depends on the type of arthritis they have, its location, and their overall health. Individuals should consult a physical therapist before starting a physical therapy regimen at home.


People can try the following exercises:

  • Sit and stand: Stand in front of a supportive chair, then move to sit down. Stand and repeat.
  • Kickbacks: Stand with a strong chair in front of the body. Hold on to it and slowly lift the foot off the ground, kicking it back toward the hip. Hold for 2–3 counts and then repeat on both sides.
  • Stretches: Lie face down on a flat, firm surface. Point one arm straight ahead. With the opposite arm, reach back to grab the foot and gently stretch the foot up toward the hip.

Learn more about knee exercises for arthritis.


People can try the following exercises:

  • Clam: Lie on one side with the knees slightly bent. Keeping the feet together, lift the top knee. Hold for 2–3 counts and repeat 5–10 times on each side.
  • Leg lifts: Lie on one side with the legs straight out. Lift the top leg, hold, and lower. Repeat 5–10 times on each side.


People can try the following exercises:

  • Shoulder rolls: Shrug the shoulders forward in a rolling motion 5–10 times, then roll them backward 5–10 times.
  • Neck mobility: While sitting up straight and looking forward, rotate the neck to the left side and then the right. Next, rotate the neck down so that the right ear moves toward the right shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
  • Shoulder mobility: While standing or sitting in a straight, neutral position, raise the arms above the head and clasp the hands. Rotate the arms to one side and then the other. Then move them forward as comfortably as they will move and back as comfortably as they will move.

Learn more about neck exercises for arthritis.

General exercises

People can try the following general exercises to ease arthritis:

  • walking
  • low impact water aerobics or swimming
  • yoga and tai chi

Learn more about exercises for arthritis pain.

Physical therapy is an important part of treating arthritis. It can reduce pain, improve mobility, and help a person before or after surgery.

People with arthritis should ask a doctor about the benefits of physical therapy and research a qualified physical therapist they can trust.