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For sufferers of Rheumatoid Arthritis, also referred to as RA, pain is often a part of daily life.  While some people with RA are capable of tolerating moderately intense activity, others find even the light tasks to be a challenge.  With the joint pain and inflammation, weakness of connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons, as well as a hampered immune system, routine movements can be painful and difficult for those with RA.  A qualified physical therapist can help those with rheumatoid arthritis achieve greater mobility, strengthen muscles and stabilize joints, and establish strategies to reduce pain.  Put simply, physical therapy may be able to help lessen the effects of RA and help sufferers to live a more fulfilling life.

How can a Physical Therapist help ease the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Your physical therapist can help with maintaining levels of strength and flexibility in your afflicted joints, and could possibly even improve your mobility to some degree. As part of your physical therapy, you will be given goals from your physical therapist that you work on in the office, and then on your own at home. You can expect to receive a treatment plan to address your specific needs and movement goals.

The signs and symptoms vary from person to person, and cases can range in severity. The approach for treating RA, therefore, is different for each case, but your physical therapy will most likely include the following recommendations and care:

  • Cardiovascular exercise. Group-based exercise, such as fitness classes or even simple walking groups are shown in studies to have beneficial effects on the individual’s strength and function. Many fitness instructors will demonstrate a modification of the movements for those who can’t (for many reasons) fully perform all of the exercises.
  • Goal-Oriented Exercise. Similar studies show that setting small physical goals and achieving them helps reduce pain and provides motivation to continue with physical therapy. In addition, simply engaging in joyful movement can increase the quality of life for RA sufferers.
  • Modalities. Gentle heat, ice, and slight electrical stimulation may also be used by your physical therapist to help manage RA pain and symptoms. These can be done simply, in your therapist’s office.

Are there ways to prevent rheumatoid arthritis?

While the mechanisms in the body that cause RA aren’t completely understood by doctors, there are some things that have been demonstrated to help slow the acceleration of the disease. There is no way to detect the potential to have RA, nor is there a way to prevent the onset. Early detection of signs and symptoms and awareness of these will help you and our primary care physician determine a proper course of treatment, as well as when to see a specialist.

Once you have been properly diagnosed, your physician can help you develop strategies to manage the pain and retain mobility. You may be asked to keep a journal of your activity, as well as your diet, in order to determine whether you have and “triggers’ that signal a flare-up.

The better you are able to educate yourself about RA and the early signs and symptoms, the better able you will be to help your treatment team make decisions regarding your personal care. Signs such as early morning stiffness and painful or swollen joints may indicate that a visit to your doctor is necessary.

As with many physical ailments, keeping your movement and functionality is key to mitigating the symptoms and effects of RA. When you maintain or increase activity levels, you will actually improve joint function and boost your quality of life.

Things to consider when choosing a physical therapist

Although all physical therapists should be able to help RA sufferers mitigate the symptoms, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when selecting the right one for you. First, a board-certified clinical specialist may have advanced knowledge that can help manage your flare-ups. Also, ask for recommendations for a physical therapist who is experienced with RA and other systemic inflammatory disorders.

When it comes to addressing the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis and the complications that result from it, the professionals at Buffalo Back and Neck Physical Therapy are second to none. Contact us to set up a consultation so that you can explore the wide variety of physical therapy treatment plans that we offer to our clients in the Western New York area. Our staff of experienced medical professionals have the ability to assess complaints and to develop a customized physical therapy plan of care that works for you.


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