3 Reasons Physical Therapy Is Important For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will experience significant physical limitations and joint deformities due to the disease. Physical therapy should be one part of an overall strategy to limit disability associated with RA.

Reduce Hand Deformities

Within a matter of weeks once hand deformities occur, they can become permanent. It is important for your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist, especially one that specializes in hand therapy. Splinting is frequently used in the earlier stages of hand deformities to keep the joint mobile. Once the deformity becomes permanent or "fixed," nothing other than surgery will correct the problem. Your physical therapist may also suggest exercises to minimize stiffness and pain. Another benefit of seeing a physical therapist is being prescribed devices to help you continue using your hands for basic activities. Over time, it can be difficult to perform simple activities if you experience significant pain or deformities in your hands.

Minimize Soft Tissue Issues

When joints are painful to use, it is natural you will try to minimize pain by avoiding physical activity. Unfortunately, becoming more sedentary can cause a vicious cycle with RA, leading to weight gain, muscle loss, and more limitations. Speaking with a physical therapist can help you find an exercise program that is specially designed to help you work around the joints that are the most painful. Your physical therapist will likely want you to perform light cardio, such as walking, swimming, or using the elliptical machine. As long as these exercises do not cause significant pain, they can help you maintain your mobility and preserve lean body mass. Additionally, your physical therapist might recommend resistance band exercises to maintain the integrity of your soft tissues and recover muscle mass.

Target Specific Issues

In addition to joint pain, RA can frequently contribute to pain in the bursae and tendons that surround the joint. Your physical therapist can help you target specific issues you might experience. For example, hip bursitis is common with RA. Depending on what aggravates the problem, your physical therapist might want you to perform specific stretches to alleviate tightness around the bursae. Exercises to strengthen specific tendons and ligaments can help better support joints that are experiencing laxity. This can reduce the chance of major tears in the ligaments or dislocation of a joint.

Since RA is a complex disease, it requires more than medication to manage symptoms and reduce the chance of disability. Working with a physical therapist at Hands-On Physical Therapy or a similar company can help you develop a strategy to reduce the likelihood of limitations and permanent disability.