Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid Arthritis, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, Arthritis

How Does Physical Therapy Fit Into Your Treatment Plan?

Many of us, from time to time, will experience certain levels of joint pain.  In most cases, that occasional pain will make you feel uncomfortable for a short period of time and then subside.  For others, that pain does not go away and might be something that needs to be addressed by a medical professional.

According to the National Institutes of Health, in the US, approximately 1.5 million adults suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), representing 0.6% to 1% of the adult population [3,5]. Among those afflicted with RA, the prevalence of work disability associated with RA was around 35%.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease that has the potential to impact many different joints and organs in the human body. RA can cause inflammation and swelling in the joints. While medications are necessary in most cases to help slow the progression of RA, programs such as physical therapy can relieve the symptoms and improve the overall quality of life when living with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

How Does RA Happen?

While there are many different types, Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis. This disease occurs because of a faulty immune response that causes the body to attack its tissue. Specifically, RA attacks the lining, or synovium, of a joint, leading to swelling and eventually erosion in the joint itself over time.

While in the early set stages, Rheumatoid Arthritis typically affects the smaller joints in your body, such as the hand, wrist, and toes. However, as RA progresses, larger joints, including the knees, hips, and shoulders, along with vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and eyes, can also be impacted.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

While Rheumatoid Arthritis can have an effect on the joints and organs of the body, physical therapy can provide several meaningful benefits. Physical therapy can help ease symptoms and enhance your quality of movement, making everyday life easier for people suffering from RA.

When seeing a physical therapist about pain resulting from RA, a therapist will evaluate your posture, muscle imbalances, and the overall mechanics of your body. They’ll teach you to improve how to move to prevent injury and reduce pain.

Meghan Taylor, PT, DPT Clinic Director at Advance Rehabilitation St. Simons Island, Georgia

When speaking on how physical therapy can benefit those with RA, Megan Taylor, PT, DPT, Clinic Director at Advance Rehabilitation St. Simons Island, Georgia Clinic, states, “Physical Therapy can have a profound impact on individuals who have been diagnosed with RA. Often, RA results in pain and inflammation in multiple joints. Physical Therapists can help relieve pain, improve strength, flexibility, and endurance, and help improve quality of life. Physical Therapists can also assist with education on how to fit and appropriately use an assistive device, and they will create a customized home exercise program.”

How Physical Therapy Can Help Those With RA:

  • Create a HEP (Home Exercise Program)
  • Improve your overall level of fitness
  • Increase your endurance
  • Help eliminate stiffness in your joints
  • Decrease fatigue
  • Improve your balance and stability
  • Increase coordination

Physical Therapy Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Massage Therapy: This relaxing treatment for arthritis can help target specific muscles and release tension. Massage can also stimulate healthy blood circulation and manage stress. Note that massage therapy is not recommended for painful joints during a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up.

Hydrotherapy: This type of therapy involves submerging the affected area or the whole body into warm water to relieve arthritis pain. Hydrotherapy can be passive therapy or active therapy. Some physical therapists assist rheumatoid arthritis patients in performing light movements and exercises in the water.

Cryotherapy Therapy: This therapy is performed by putting a cold compress on the affected area to reduce swelling and help alleviate pain.

Heat Therapy: Heat therapy is done by placing a warm towel on the affected area to promote circulation. This therapy may also stimulate blood flow and soothe muscle tension and pain.

Ultrasound: Therapeutic ultrasound uses vibrations from sound waves to reduce stiffness and pain, improving joint function. For help with your arthritis pain, please reach out to a physical or occupational therapist near you.  We can work to manage your symptoms and still keep you doing the activities you love most!

Exercises to Help with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Many people with RA tend to avoid exercise as they are worried that the activity might worsen their pain. However, exercise is a key treatment for arthritis to help reduce the disability often associated with RA.

Regular exercise can produce stronger muscles that can better support the joints and improve flexibility, which can aid joint function. Regular exercise can also reduce fatigue and boost your mood. Better overall fitness helps prevent heart disease and diabetes, two life-shortening ailments that often accompany RA.

Walking: Low-impact and straightforward exercises are great for rheumatoid arthritis. Make sure to start your pace slowly and constantly drink water to stay hydrated. Walking promotes aerobic conditioning and boosts your mood.

Stretching: Stretching can help reduce joint stiffness, promoting flexibility among people with rheumatoid arthritis. Developing a stretching routine may help improve your range of motion. You can start your stretching routine with a warm-up for three to five minutes and proceed with mild stretching. Remember to hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds before releasing the stretch. You can repeat each stretch exercise two to three times.

Cycling: Low-impact aerobic exercises like cycling benefit the joints. Cycling may have beneficial effects on your cardiovascular health, which may be at risk when you have rheumatoid arthritis. You can ride a bike outside or cycle on a stationary bike with the supervision of a physical therapist.

Yoga: Building your strength through these low-intensity exercises may increase your muscle strength and joint flexibility. These activities encourage flowing movements and deep breathing that are also advantageous for balance to avoid falls.

Safety Tips for Exercising with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exercising is beneficial for RA if you do it safely. Before beginning, consult your medical provider / physical therapist. They can recommend appropriate exercises and suggest techniques that can subside your pain. Below are a few tips to ensure your safety prior to and during exercise.

Choose an Exercise Plan:  There are numerous exercise plans out there.  Although it is great to have choices, too many choices can make it rather confusing as to which exercise plan would be best for you. Our friends at the Arthritis Foundation, located in Atlanta, Georgia, have created a list of exercises for those with arthritis.  For over seven decades, the Arthritis Foundation has led the fight to conquer arthritis for nearly 60 million adults and 300,000 children living with the disease in the U.S.Make Sure to Stretch: Warm up before each session and end by cooling down. Stretch all the major muscle groups before working out, especially the joints in your body that are prone to pain and stiffness.

Take it Slow:  Start with short workouts, build up your endurance, and work within your limitations. Listen to your body, especially if you are going through a flare-up, and take as many breaks as necessary. Allow yourself plenty of rest between workouts.

Do Low-Impact Exercises:  Low-impact exercises reduce stress and pressure on the joints. These exercises include swimming, walking, cycling, yoga, and many more. Avoid any workouts that cause severe pain or worsen your symptoms.

If you are a person suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, it is important you know that physical therapy is an avenue that can provide relief when added to your overall wellness plan.  Advance Rehabilitation, with our 25 clinic locations located throughout Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, is here to assist you.  To make an appointment with an Advance Rehabilitation, please click on the link below.