Physical Therapy and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis [RA] affects children and adults, and it is estimated that over 2 million people in the United States suffer from it. Physical Therapy can be a crucial part of a treatment protocol for both children and adults to prolong and improve their activity levels and provide them with a better quality of life. A Physical Therapist will perform an evaluation and assess strength, flexibility, joint mobility and range of motion deficits that can contribute to joint pain and possible progression of painful symptoms (think about driving a car with the alignment slightly off and the long term effect on the tires). We cannot stop the progression of RA but can help people make positive changes in their movement patterns to allow them to remain active and have the best quality of life possible.

We like to tell our patients “Motion is lotion,” and I have always liked the saying “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Exercise and general activity are important for the wellbeing and health of everyone, but are crucial for those with RA.Strengthening of muscles surrounding joints, improving mobility of the joints in the trunk and extremities, improving trunk stability (“core strength”), will allow someone to remain active without moving at the expense of painful joints or placing themselves at risk for exacerbating themselves with low levels of activity.

For those that suffer more severe RA symptoms there are also options available.Aquatic therapy is beneficial because it helps unload joints of the body in a warm environment that allows someone to move in ways that they would struggle with on land. I have met several people who were extremely motivated to take control of their situation but were limited by pain as soon as they tried to increase their activity levels, until they attempted aquatic therapy.

In closing, Physical Therapy is a multifaceted profession with many avenues available to treat those with RA, and I believe that in conjunction with a plan from your Rheumatologist we can help almost everyone improve their quality of life and get them back to doing the things they love-faster.

–Jason Wheeler PT, DPT
Promotion Physical Therapy