Hugh Duckworth MD

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in 1984 from University of Tennessee School of Medicine

Oct 7, 2018 4 min read

RA Therapy: Is Therapy an Effective Option for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

In addition to medical and surgical treatment, physicians also refer patients to services that provide rheumatoid arthritis therapy practices. These are rehabilitative and therapeutic practices that are focused on restoring joint function, range of motion, and mobility.

physical therapy

Physical and occupational therapists deliver the RA therapy,  focusing on a better quality of life and overall well-being for their patients.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis Therapy?

Rheumatoid arthritis therapy is combined with a variety of medications to provide a well-rounded individualized treatment strategy. Rheumatoid arthritis therapy is the non-medication aspect of the treatment strategy which is focused on the physical health and daily living routines of the patient.

Rheumatoid arthritis therapy practices help patients to restore their muscle strength, and adjust their daily activities, with the goal of improving physical and emotional wellness. Different types of rheumatoid arthritis therapies focus on different aspects of physical strength and wellbeing.

Rheumatoid arthritis therapy also addresses the extensive consequences that many patients experience in living with the disease. These may include family, social, physical, work or school obligations that can often suffer as a result of the ongoing condition. Targeted RA therapy helps patients overcome these many challenges.

Types of Rheumatoid Arthritis Therapy

There are two primary types of rheumatoid arthritis therapy that patients pursue as part of their treatment plan. These two types of therapies are:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy

Physical therapy focuses on restoring strength and mobility, whereas occupational therapy helps patients adjust their routines and activities to their condition while preventing further joint damage.

There are also therapy specialists that patients can choose to see for specialized treatment. Depending on each patient’s unique case, these may or may not be necessary.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists work with rheumatoid arthritis patients to maintain and improve their physical strength. This includes regular physical activity, specific exercises, and other methods to keep joints, bones, and muscles moving and stimulated in safe and controlled ways.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients who work with physical therapists on an ongoing basis find that they have more strength, flexibility, and range of motion due to the regular exercises and activities they perform. Physical therapists are responsible for developing and coordinating exercises plans, and they also actively monitor the patient’s progress.

Here are the ways rheumatoid arthritis therapy is performed by a physical therapist:

Exercise plan: Predetermined exercise routines and activities can help improve strength and flexibility. Physical exercise also helps patients improve their overall health levels to protect against infection, illness and other diseases like heart and lung conditions.

Heat and ice treatments: Alternating between heating pads and ice packs can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

Massage therapy: Massage therapy can target specific muscles and provide tension release. Massage therapy can also improve overall levels of well-being.

Encouragement and emotional support: Dealing with rheumatoid arthritis can be very challenging and traumatic. Having a professional physical therapist motivate and encourage you provides positive emotional support.

When the diagnosis of RA is made patients can choose to work with physical therapists on a short-term basis or as needed as their symptoms progress later on in the disease course.  Many patients work with physical therapists regularly for the majority of their lives.

Occupational Therapy

Often rheumatoid arthritis patients find that simple tasks like cooking, bathing, dressing, and carrying items become painful or difficult. This can be discouraging and upsetting for many patients if they don’t receive the proper support they require.

Occupational therapists are professionals who provide this support. They examine the patient’s unique lifestyle and determine the areas where the quality of life can be improved by performing activities differently. An occupational therapist works with the patient to teach different methods of performing activities and making adjustments so that they can accomplish their normal everyday tasks.

Occupational therapists provide patients with tools and devices that can help them perform their daily tasks. These assistive devices may include special cooking utensils, bathroom supports, reachers, canes and walkers, and certain products like electric can openers.

Occupational therapists will also examine the patient’s household and make changes like:

  • Installing larger door knobs or handles with levers
  • Replacing light switches with large ones that can be pressed
  • Rearranging items in the kitchen to make them easier to reach
  • Recommending products that are easier to hold and manage
  • Suggesting ergonomic products like chairs and electronic devices that improve comfort

Therapy Specialists

Apart from physical and occupational therapy for rheumatoid arthritis, there are other specialized therapy practices that can help. Here are some of the additional rheumatoid arthritis therapy options available for patients:

Podiatrist: A specialist in feet who can offer joint support and special orthotics for shoes.

Massage therapist: A specialist who can treat muscle pain in multiple areas of the body. A massage therapist can also help improve joint stiffness and relieve pain.

Electrical stimulation: Electrical stimulation practices like Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy, can be very effective at relieving pain. These rheumatoid arthritis therapy practices can also improve mobility and joint flexibility.

Thermotherapy: The combination of extreme cold and deep heat to soothe muscles and ease joint pain is called thermotherapy. When extreme cold is used on its own to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, this is a rheumatoid arthritis therapy practice known as cryotherapy.

Hydrotherapy: Physical therapists can also specialize in hydrotherapy, which guides rheumatoid arthritis patients through slow and controlled exercise movements in the water. It’s a relaxing form of exercise and the movements under water help to ease pressure and stiffness in joints.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Therapy is Included in Treatment

While physical, occupational, and specialized rheumatoid arthritis therapy treatments won’t cure or stop the disease, they are critical components in helping patients adjust to their disease, improve their quality of life and achieve better health and well-being.

Physical and occupational therapies combined with well-rounded medications treatments can allow rheumatoid arthritis patients to live fulfilling and healthy lives despite their disease.