Are Physical Therapy and Exercise Important for PsA?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2022. | Last updated: August 2022

Physical therapy and exercise are important parts of a treatment plan for psoriatic arthritis. That is because physical activity helps maintain joint movement. Psoriatic arthritis inflames the joints, causing pain and stiffness. As the disease progresses, it can cause damage to the joints and limit range of motion.

Regular exercise is key to improving overall health and keeping the joints flexible. Physical or occupational therapy can also be helpful. Therapists can provide specific exercises and techniques to promote the ability to move, return function, and prevent disability.1

Importance of regular exercise

Exercise is important to overall health, and it is vital for maintaining the function and use of joints in psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Low-impact exercise has been shown to reduce pain and improve well-being in people with PsA. Physical activity can also help maintain strength in muscles, making daily tasks easier.2,3

In people diagnosed with PsA who are overweight or obese, lifestyle changes, like exercise to help with weight loss, are recommended. Weight loss can improve your response to PsA drugs.4

To avoid and prevent the stiffness of PsA, people with the condition might consider daily physical activity. Try moving your joints through as great a range of motion as possible. There are several different kinds of exercise that can be helpful:1,2,5

  • StretchingStretching is important for muscle flexibility and maintaining or improving the range of motion in joints. Yoga and tai chi are 2 forms of exercise that include stretching. However, you can also do simple stretches throughout the day.
  • Strength training – Strength training makes joints more stable. Weight-bearing exercises also increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Strength training can be done using dumbbells, resistance bands, or with exercises like Pilates.
  • Aerobic – Aerobic exercise increases physical endurance and helps your heart health. Aerobic exercise also improves mood, provides more energy, increases stamina, and decreases inflammation. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, swimming, and cycling.5

Psoriatic arthritis symptoms can come and go. Even on days when pain and swelling is worsened, people living with PsA should move and stretch as much as they can to lessen stiffening and maintain flexibility.5

Physical therapy for psoriatic arthritis

People with PsA are often referred to physical or occupational therapists to help maintain joint function. Physical therapists are licensed professionals who help people living with PsA reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. They help people prevent injury or manage their condition using methods that promote the ability to move, return function, and prevent disability.5,6

A physical therapy program for PsA is tailored to each person’s needs and symptoms. A physical therapy program may include:6

  • Exercises and periods of resting the affected joints
  • Heat/cold treatments
  • Orthotics
  • Assistive devices to help with daily activities
  • Tips on ways to conserve energy and protect joints
  • Possible vocational readjustments

Occupational therapy for psoriatic arthritis

Occupational therapists are often part of treatment for psoriatic arthritis. Occupational therapists are licensed professionals who work with people who need special help due to physical, developmental, social, or emotional problems. Occupational therapists often work with people with PsA and other illnesses or disabilities. They help people do everyday tasks that are important to them, such as eating, dressing, and work activities. They may suggest changes to the environment, the task, or the person’s skills needed for the task.7

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