Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes symptoms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. It may also affect other organs of the body including the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men and it usually develops in individuals over the age of 40. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by pain and swelling in the joints. It commonly affects the wrists and fingers but may also affect the elbows, hips, knees and other joints of the body. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage, and commonly includes medication to suppress the immune system and reduce pain and inflammation. Exercise and physical therapy may also be effective at keeping joints flexible.

Therapeutic Methods for Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

Physical therapy can help to relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, preserve joint function, prevent structural damage or deformity and help patients to maintain a normal lifestyle. A physical therapy program may include the following techniques to treat pain:

  • Applications of heat or cold
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage
  • Nerve stimulation

In addition to pain management, a physical therapy program often includes exercises to stretch muscles and increase strength. Aerobic exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling may also be suggested to improve muscle endurance and physical capacity. Patients are often encouraged to practice certain exercises at home to increase range of motion and prevent the progression of long term deformities in the joints. Joints that have started to deform may require splints or braces to prevent any further deterioration. A physical therapist may work with an occupational therapist to create a tailored device for the individual. An occupational therapist then teaches the patient how to perform daily activities while wearing a splint or brace.

By adhering to a treatment program that includes a physical therapy regimen, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can maintain a normal lifestyle.

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