Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that rheumatoid arthritis usually begins between the ages of 20 and 40. This disease may cause deformity and pain due to the weakening of bone joints and ligaments.

Rheumatoid arthritis is typically diagnosed through blood tests or looking at the bone structures through imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scan, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

These methods reveal the severity of rheumatoid arthritis and help plan out the appropriate treatments for the disease.

Usually, medications are prescribed to ease the pain and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, other non-pharmacological methods like occupational therapy and physical therapies are also done to help patients manage this disease.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Arthritis Foundation says physical therapy can help people with arthritis to move safely. Physical therapy (PT) can increase joint strength, improve mobility, and maximize the ability to perform life activities.

Physical therapy can help alleviate rheumatoid arthritis. Usually, PT routines include exercises that enhance balance, flexibility, coordination, and strength.

During therapy, your physical therapist will engage you in activities and exercises to help you maintain proper posture.

A PT can also assist you in using walkers and canes and suggest modifications that can help ease pain and improve everyday functions.

Exercises to Help with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Some people with arthritis fear exercise. However, exercise can actually help reduce the disability risks of arthritis.
Doing light exercises regularly can help strengthen muscles and boost flexibility that may help support joint function in rheumatoid arthritis. These constant movements may also help improve your emotional state and reduce fatigue.

The following low-intensity exercises are recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Yoga and Tai Chi
    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.
  5. Hand Exercises
    One of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is joint pain, especially in the smaller joints of fingers.

Here are some helpful hand exercises that you can try.

  • Making a Fist
    Start this simple exercise by stretching out your hand with your fingers straight, and then slowly draw them together to form a fist. Make sure that your thumbs are not tucked under your fingers. Hold the fist for a minute and repeat it as many times as you want.
  • Pinching Fingers
    Start by opening your hand again. With your thumb, try and touch each finger and press it firmly by doing a pinch action. You can hold the pinch for a second or two before moving to the next finger.
  • Stretching Fingers
    You can do this stretch by slowly and gently opening your hand and stretching out your fingers for several seconds. This stretch can strengthen the muscles and reduce the stiffness of finger joints.
  • Lifting Your Fingers
    Place your hand facing down on a flat surface. One by one, slowly lift each of your fingers, starting from your thumb to your pinky. Hold the finger lift for a second or two before lowering it.

Other Physical Therapy Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are passive ways that PT can help with rheumatoid arthritis. A physical therapist performs these treatments.

Massage Therapy
This relaxing treatment 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!

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This article was written by Ruth Riley. She is an educator, writer, literary enthusiast, and a regular contributor at Motherhoodcommunity.com. By utilizing her expertise in teaching and writing, she wishes to educate more people and provide insight into health and wellness.