Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the management of all stages of arthritis, helping to prevent physical impairment and restore functional ability through regular training, mobility aids, therapeutic modalities, and education.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) causes inflammation in the lining of joints and is a chronic disease. While it can affect many joints in the body, RA mostly targets the hands and feet, attacking in a symmetrical pattern – so the same joints on both sides of the body become inflamed.
This process is ongoing and may lead to damage to tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones. Eventually, the patient can suffer permanent joint deformity and significant disability. In severe cases, damage to organs, like the eyes, heart, and lungs, can occur.
RA has no known cure, though the symptoms and resulting disabilities can be effectively managed through medicine, exercise, and education on lifestyle changes that ensure joint protection.
A recent Canadian study showed that patients who followed a home-based physiotherapy program improved following treatment, and those improvements were still evident after one year.
Physiotherapists can help reduce the pain and avoid disability resulting from RA. To get started, you can ask your rheumatologist to refer you to a good, licensed physical therapist in your area. Physiotherapists are trained in diagnosing and managing joint and muscle problems. Your treatment plan will include:
Your physiotherapist should start by examining the joints that you find painful. They will also ask specific questions that let them tailor the right treatment for your needs.
Tell your physiotherapist about the things you would like to improve most, like going up and down the stairs, picking up your grand kids, going on a weekend hike, etc. They can design a targeted exercise program comprising moves and stretches that help you improve your range of motion and strength, allowing you to maintain your important daily functions.
In the past, RA patients were advised to stay away from high-impact exercises like weightlifting and running, as it could worsen the disease. Today, there is enough evidence that RA patients who do these types of things have healthier joints, even as they grow older.
So, consider including fun exercises in your treatment plan, like yoga, swimming, or Tai-Chi classes. Also make sure to do some cardio, because RA increases your risk for heart disease.
Physical therapy should help you create a good balance between exercise and rest, and also help you distinguish between muscle soreness from exercise and joint inflammation from RA. This knowledge will help you know when to cut back or ramp up your activity.