Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation in the joints, leading to pain. It is chronic, and caused by the immune system functioning improperly and attacking the joint lining that normally protects movement. About 456,000 Australians are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. It can occur anywhere throughout the body, and is frequently found in the hands and knees. Symptoms may ease and then worsen again during various periods of time.
It is typically diagnosed by a rheumatologist, who specialises in treating arthritis. They will do an examination, order tests such as a blood test, and obtain a medical history to make a diagnosis.
The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Stiffness, worsened in the morning
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. While we understand that the immune system attacks joints and causes inflamed and swollen lining that causes pain and tenderness, research is unclear on what exactly causes the immune system to malfunction in the first place. However, a few genes have been identified as risk factors, meaning it may have a hereditary component.
Early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is important, and can lead to improved health outcomes. Treatment aims to reduce damage to the joints, and also to ease pain and inflammation.
Often medicines called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are prescribed by rheumatologists, which aim to reduce inflammation. Another common type of drug that is prescribed to rheumatoid arthritis patients is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug, this aims to dampen the immune response which is causing damage.
In addition to prescribing medication, doctors may consider surgery for severe cases, in order to replaced damaged joints. However, this is a last resort.
Where does physical therapy come into the picture?
Far from being an alternative treatment, physiotherapy is often an essential part of a treament plan for rheumatoid arthritis.
Physiotherapists can support a person with rheumatoid arthritis to understand more about their condition, and the types of daily activities and modifications they can utilise to help improve their function and symptoms. Here are a few of the things that physio can do to help:
- Devise an individualised exercise plan for you that works around your limitations and helps to build flexibility, strength, healthy function and range of motion
- Specific guidance about how to avoid injury and what a reasonable level of activity is
- Advise and educate on the application of heat or ice for pain relief
- Utilise a TENS machine for pain relief
- Offer remedial massage
- Provide acupuncture
- Provide splints, supports or other mobility and walking aids
The benefits of knowing how to pace yourself, how to exercise safely, and how to provide supportive pain relief are clear. Research supports the role of physiotherapists and occupational therapists as a key part of rheumatoid arthritis treatment and management and a rehabilitative treatment.
How can The Brisbane Spine Clinic help?
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, then we encourage you to come and see us at The Brisbane Spine Clinic for physiotherapy services. Our physiotherapists can provide assessment and support for your individual needs and work with you to help you to engage in activities in a healthy and manageable way.
We can craft a tailored physiotherapy program that will help to ease your symptoms and strengthen your spine.
Please call 07 3841 3070 or book an appointment online.
All information is general in nature