The physician’s concern for patients’ arthritis management need not end with the referral to a physical therapist. Progress is often better if the patient, physician and physical therapist work together as a team.

According to Col. Gail Deyle, chief of physical therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, arthritic patients who are involved in a physical therapy (PT) regimen — especially those who are continuing with some form of exercise — are often highly motivated by their doctors’ monitoring and commenting positively on their progress.

Deyle adds that doctors, patients and physical therapists also should communicate during therapy as a way of determining the most appropriate referrals for other treatment modalities, such as occupational therapy or pain management, as these are needed.

In light of the positive results from new studies on the use of PT in rheumatoid disorders, Deyle encourages patients and physicians to discuss PT early in the course of disease management, in some cases even before turning to arthritis medications.

“There are patients for whom a course of PT followed by regular, ongoing exercise can be the primary and best form of early treatment,” he said.

“Both doctors and patients should also consider determining if the patient’s arthritic joints respond to physical therapy before opting for surgery,” he suggested, pointing out there’s only a seven- to 15-year lifespan for replaced joints. “As our study of osteoarthritic knee joints showed, PT can help reduce pain and increase mobility — at least postponing, if not preventing, the need for more invasive surgical repairs and joint replacements in some instances.”