Physical Therapy Treatment Solutions for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Treatment Solutions for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. Autoimmune diseases cause the body to attack itself, because it perceives it as a threat. As the joints are damaged, they become inflamed and painful, often too painful to perform daily tasks.

As the immune system attacks the joints, there is a thickening of the space between them, which results in the destruction of cartilage. Over time, the tendons and ligaments in these areas get stretched out and weaker, causing the joint to lose its shape greatly impacting movement.

Discovering the Symptoms

The early signs of this disease usually begin with pain in the small joints, starting in the fingers and toes. As it progresses, it can move to the other joints and, in rare cases, other areas of the body. Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Swollen, tender joints
  • Joint stiffness that gets worse with inactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Treating the Symptoms of RA

Aging on its own can be difficult; with rheumatoid arthritis it’s even harder. Having trouble using your hands, or even standing up can make it difficult to live a normal life. Though there is no cure for this disease, symptoms can be treated medically and with physical therapy.

Flexible Joints, Flexible Life

About two thirds of RA patients have significance muscle loss. In fact, it is found that 70% of strength loss is common in most patients. Research has shown that aerobic and resistance training can help improve functions and overall wellbeing of those who suffer with RA.

  • Weight Training– Reversing muscle loss can help improve movement of the joints, and reduce the disability associated with this disorder. A 24-week resistance training program can increase lean body mass, resulting in improvement of strength and function of the joints.
  • Aerobic Exercise– Patients that partake in aerobic exercise can decrease their risk of mortality around 20-30%. It helps to improve joint function, while increasing flexibility.
  • Other Exercise– Pilates and yoga have also been found to be effective. Elderly patients, who practice tai chi, tend to have better movements in the ankle and knees, due to the increase of joint lubrication.

Patients who suffer from RA are encouraged to partake in some form of exercise as part of their care, as inactivity can cause it to worsen. It is important to consult your local Physical Therapist to help you discover the right exercise regimen for you.

Citation

Cooney JK, Law RJ, Matschke V, et al. Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. J Aging Res. 2011;2011:681640. Published 2011 Feb 13. doi:10.4061/2011/681640

Jagpal A, Navarro-Millán I. Cardiovascular co-morbidity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a narrative review of risk factors, cardiovascular risk assessment and treatment. BMC Rheumatol. 2018;2:10. Published 2018 Apr 11. doi:10.1186/s41927-018-0014-y

Veldhuijzen van Zanten JJ, Rouse PC, Hale ED, et al. Perceived Barriers, Facilitators and Benefits for Regular Physical Activity and Exercise in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Review of the Literature. Sports Med. 2015;45(10):1401–1412. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0363-2

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