What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis – inflammation of the joints – due to an autoimmune disease. This occurs when your body’s immune system, which normally fights off infections, starts to attack your healthy tissues such as the lining of the joints. This causes inflammation, swelling and pain. Rheumatoid Arthritis usually affects smaller joints such as in the hand and feet, however as Rheumatoid Arthritis progresses, larger joints such as the ankle, knees and hips can also be affected.
It is important to note Rheumatoid Arthritis may affect other structures, including skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, glands, blood and nerve tissue and bone marrow.
What are the signs and symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Most common symptoms are:
- Joint pain, swelling, and tenderness to touch
- Stiffness in the joints, especially in the morning
- Symmetrical (same joints affected on both sides of the body)
- Loss of appetite
What are the risk factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
- Factors that may increase your risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis include:
- Age: most commonly begins in middle age
- Sex: women are more likely to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis compared to men
- Family history
- Smoking: Increases severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms
- Obesity: overweight or obese people are of higher risk
How do I manage Rheumatoid Arthritis?
As we do not know the cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis, there is currently no cure. Most treatment will aim to manage symptoms associated with ‘flares’ – period when joint becomes more inflamed and painful.
Pharmacological treatment that are useful involve:
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- corticosteroid medicines or injections
- disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- biological DMARDs
- stretches to improve joint flexibility
- exercise to improve muscle and bone strength
Can Physiotherapy help Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Physiotherapy may help to identify and manage risk factors that pre-cede ‘flares’, such as sleep and recovery, diet, emotional and physical stress, and functional tolerances . Physiotherapy treatment will aim to education on how to protect your joints and cope with fatigue, progressions of exercise programs to improve flexibility and muscle and bone strength, improve walking and movement patterns to reduce stress through the affected areas and improve physical capacity to reduce other associated diseases.