RA: Treatment Options

Could you benefit from physical therapy or surgery?

Health Monitor Staff
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Looking for ways to ease your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain? In addition to taking medication, a regular exercise program can really help, and a physical therapist (PT) and/or an occupational therapist (OT) are the people to see.

Physical therapy
A PT can recommend range-of-motion exercise programs to help keep your joints functioning normally and keep you more active. A PT can guide you through exercises to stimulate your muscles, bones and joints.

A PT also can teach you ways to protect your joints, apply hot and cold treatment, and measure you for splints. Splints can help reduce pain and swelling in a tired joint. A doctor, PT or OT can help you choose a splint and make sure it fits properly.

Working with a physical therapist can help you assess the joint function, strength and the overall fitness of your joints. As your disease progresses, the PT can help you maintain or increase joint flexibility and strength.

Occupational therapy
An OT can explain how to do everyday tasks more easily, helping you enjoy a more independent lifestyle.

By analyzing your daily routine, the OT can identify simpler, more efficient ways to do the activities of daily living. For example, they may suggest self-help devices, like zipper pulls or handles that help you get on and off toilet seats.

Being as efficient as possible with everyday tasks leaves you more energy for the fun activities that matter most in your life. It also reduces frustration, which keeps you more psychologically fit.

Is surgery an option?
When medication and therapy are not enough, surgery can help improve the quality of life for people with advanced RA. The following surgeries are for those experiencing severe pain or significant loss of function:

  • Joint replacement: This surgery involves removing all or part of a damaged joint and replacing it with artificial components. The most commonly replaced joints are hips and knees. Keep in mind that artificial joints don't last forever, and may need to be redone.
  • Joint fusion: Arthrodesis is a surgical procedure that involves removing a joint and fusing the bones into one immobile unit. Joint fusion often involves bone grafts from the person's own pelvis. The most commonly fused joints are the ankles and wrists, and joints of the fingers and toes.
  • Tendon reconstruction: Reconstruction of RA-damaged or torn tendons (the tissues that attach muscles to bones) is usually done on the hands. It involves attaching a healthy tendon to the damaged one. This can help restore the use of your hands.
April 2013