Physical therapy is a non-surgical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that can effectively relieve inflammation and joint pain. These techniques will also help restore muscle, range of motion, and flexibility equipping with the necessary strength to combat future rheumatoid arthritis pain. There are a variety of physical therapy techniques that may eases rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Passive treatments relax body and include massage, heat and cold therapy, hydrotherapy, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and ultrasonic message. Physical therapy program will usually begin with passive treatments.
- Cold Therapy: Cold therapy (also called cryotherapy) eases painful RA flare ups. Cold therapy slows circulation, which reduces swelling. Physical therapist may place a cold compress on the target area, the physiotherapist can give an ice massage, or even use a spray known as fluoro methane to cool inflamed tissues.
- Heat Therapy: Heat triggers the body’s natural healing process by relaxing tired joints and muscles and speeding up blood flow to the painful area. Extra blood delivers extra oxygen and nutrients. Heat may not completely eliminate the source of RA pain, but it can effectively reduce chronic pain. This therapy is used in a couple of ways through dry heat (a heating pad or a dry, hot towel) or moist heat (steam heat or a moist, warm cloth).When using heat therapy on own after physical therapy ends, never overheat painful areas. If using a heating pad, set it to low or medium. When using a hot towel, touch it first to make sure it’s not too hot. Both heat and cold therapies offer their own set of benefits, and physical therapist may alternate between them to get the best results.
- Hydrotherapy: As the name suggests, hydrotherapy involves water and it’s an ideal rheumatoid arthritis treatment. As a passive treatment, hydrotherapy may simply involve sitting in a whirlpool bath to relieve pain, relax muscles, and condition body without adding unnecessary stress on tired joints.
- Massage: Be it deep tissue or therapeutic, massage may help relax the joints and muscles so one may be able to use joints more effectively. Physical therapist may use heat and cold therapies with massage to boost the benefits. Should not be massaged at or near the arthritic area it will likely cause pain. But massage can relax the muscles and tissues that impact tired joints, even if they aren’t located directly near them.
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation): TENS therapy sounds intense, but it really isn’t painful. Electrodes taped to skin & sends a tiny electrical current to key points on the nerve pathway. TENS is generally believed to trigger the release of endorphins, which are body’s natural pain killers.
- Ultrasonic message: This therapy uses sound waves to create a gentle heat that increases blood circulation to our deep tissues. Ultrasonic message helps to reduce inflammation, stiffness, and pain. This passive therapy also improves range of motion, which will likely be limited due to rheumatoid arthritis pain.
Exercise is the cornerstone of any rheumatoid arthritis physical therapy program. Once complete course of passive treatments, physical therapist will develop an active program specifically for patient .Active treatments, which include regular exercise, help address flexibility, strength, and joint movement. This will not only curb recurrent pain but will also improve overall health and help lose weight, if necessary. Physical therapist will work with to develop a program based on specific symptoms and health history.
Active treatments include:
- Muscle flexibility and strengthening: Range of motion will likely be restricted if have rheumatoid arthritis. Using customized stretching and strengthening exercises, physical therapist will help lengthen and strengthen muscles, and improve joint movement. Strong, lean muscles better handle pain.
- Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercises, such as walking and biking, are ideal for RA sufferers because they strengthen spine without putting unnecessary stress on joints. Aerobic exercises will also help toss lose weight, and a few less pounds will take pressure off tired joints.
- Hydrotherapy: Water-based exercises may be recommended to provide gentle aerobic conditioning.