Get Physical: Rheumatoid Arthritis
By Josh Vance
Arthritis of any type is inconvenient, but Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) comes with it’s own set of challenges. The good news is that a person with Rheumatoid Arthritis has a lot of options to successfully manage this painful condition.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is unique in that it is an autoimmune disease. That means that the body’s natural design to attack infections in the body is turned against itself. The immune system begins to attack the tissues of the body, treating them like invaders. This causes pain and swelling. It usually affects hands and feet but it has also been known to attack organs of the body such as the skin, eyes heart or lungs.
One of the hallmarks of RA is that both sides of the body are involved. People suffering with other forms of arthritis may have pain in one body part that has received significant wear and tear over the years. People with RA, however, will find that both of their hands and likely their feet as well will be painful and swollen.
The causes and mechanisms behind RA are not fully understood. Because of that, it is difficult to predict or prevent it. However, advances in treatment are making it possible for more people with RA to manage their pain and live full, active lives.
We do know that RA is three times more common in woman than in men. It also tends to show up between the ages of 30 and 50 but it is possible to have the disease show up earlier or later in life. There is some evidence that it may be hereditary.
People with RA usually report that their pain and swelling in their hands and feet is worst just after they wake up in the morning. They may run a fever and notice that their joints are warm, red and tender.
During a flare up of swelling and pain, ice can be applied to the affected areas. This is useful as it reduces the swelling and decreases the pain. Hot packs are useful if applied to stiff joints prior to exercise. The heat helps to loosen up the joint and prepare it for activity.
A Physical Therapist can help with all forms of arthritis and will refer you to a Rheumatologist if they see evidence pointing to Rheumatoid Arthritis. A doctor will perform a series of tests to determine if you have RA, including blood tests and other examinations.
If you find the you have RA, be encouraged. Early treatment is able to help prevent permanent damage to the your joints. Even though there is no cure, a doctor can prescribe medications that have the potential of putting the disease into remission.
A Physical Therapist is skilled at providing you with the exercises and stretches that will keep your joints healthy and flexible. It is essential that you remain appropriately active. PT’s can instruct you on the types of activities that will be most beneficial to your particular situation.
I will be talking more about RA and other types of arthritis at a free “Joint Health and Arthritis” seminar on Tuesday, Nov. 7.