How Can Physical Therapy Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

How can physical therapy help rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. While there is no cure for RA, physical therapy can play a vital role in managing its symptoms and improving quality of life.

A comprehensive physical therapy program can help individuals with RA maintain joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and enhance overall function. By addressing the physical limitations caused by RA, physical therapy can empower individuals to engage in daily activities with greater independence and ease.

What is Rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joints, and can damage other tissues throughout the body. It affects the lining of the joints, called the synovium, which normally produces a fluid that helps the joints move smoothly.

In RA, the synovium becomes inflamed and thickened, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Over time, the inflammation can damage the cartilage and bone in the joints, leading to joint deformity and loss of function.
RA is more common in women than men, and it usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50. it can occur at any age.

Physical therapy also helps in preventing overuse injuries

Rheumatoid arthritis Causes

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.


People with certain genes are more likely to develop RA. These genes are called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. HLA genes play a role in the immune system.

Environmental factors

Several environmental factors can trigger RA in people who have the genes for it. These factors include:

  • Smoking: Smoking is the strongest environmental risk factor for RA.
  • Infections: Some infections, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, may trigger RA in people who are already at risk for the disease.
  • Silica exposure: People who work in occupations that expose them to silica, such as mining and construction, are at increased risk of RA.
  • Obesity: People who are obese are more likely to develop RA.

Immune system dysfunction

In RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, including the joints. This attack leads to inflammation, swelling, and pain.

Other possible causes

Researchers are still investigating other possible causes of RA, such as:

  • Hormonal factors: RA is more common in women than men, which suggests that hormones may play a role in the disease.
  • Diet: Some studies have shown that certain dietary factors, such as red meat and dairy consumption, may increase the risk of RA.
  • Stress: Stress may not directly cause RA, but it can worsen the symptoms of the disease.

It is important to note that RA is not contagious. It is a complex disease with multiple contributing factors.

Rheumatoid arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. It can also damage other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

Symptoms of RA can vary from person to person and may come and go.

Common symptoms of RA include:

  • Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness: This is usually the first symptom of RA and often affects the small joints of the hands, wrists, and feet. The pain and stiffness are often worse in the morning and after periods of inactivity.
  • Fatigue: Many people with RA feel tired and have low energy levels. This fatigue can be caused by the inflammation of the disease, as well as by pain, sleep problems, and depression.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever is a common symptom of RA. This fever is usually caused by the inflammation of the disease.
  • Loss of appetite: Many people with RA lose their appetite and experience weight loss. This can be caused by the inflammation of the disease, as well as by pain and depression.
  • Morning stiffness: People with RA often experience stiffness in their joints, especially in the morning. This stiffness can last for 30 minutes or more.
  • Joint deformity: Over time, RA can damage the cartilage and bone in the joints, leading to joint deformity. This can make it difficult to move the joints and can cause pain.
  • Other symptoms: RA can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. These symptoms may include:
  • Skin nodules: These are small, firm bumps that can develop under the skin, especially around the elbows and knuckles.
  • Dry eyes and mouth: RA can cause the eyes and mouth to become dry and irritated. This is because the disease can damage the glands that produce tears and saliva.
  • Lung problems: RA can cause inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to shortness of breath and other lung problems.
  • Heart problems: RA can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Blood vessel problems: RA can also increase the risk of blood clots.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of RA, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to slow the progression of the disease and prevent joint damage.

Why physical therapy is important for rheumatoid arthritis?

Physical therapy is an essential component of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) management, playing a crucial role in alleviating symptoms, improving joint function, and enhancing overall quality of life. Here’s a comprehensive overview of why physical therapy is crucial for RA:

1. Pain Management

Physical therapy employs a range of techniques to reduce pain and inflammation associated with RA. These include:

  • Range-of-motion (ROM) exercises: These exercises help maintain flexibility and prevent joint stiffness.
  • Strengthening exercises: These exercises help build muscle strength and support around the joints, reducing pain and improving joint stability.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Heat therapy can help relax muscles and reduce pain, while cold therapy can reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Joint protection strategies: Physical therapists teach patients how to perform daily activities in a way that minimizes joint stress and protects them from further damage.

2. Improved Joint Function and Mobility

Physical therapy focuses on restoring and maintaining joint function, enabling individuals to perform daily tasks with greater ease and independence. This includes:

  • Aerobic exercises: These exercises improve cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall fitness, reducing fatigue and promoting overall well-being.
  • Balance and coordination exercises: These exercises help prevent falls and improve stability, especially important for individuals with RA-related joint damage.
  • Adaptive equipment training: Physical therapists can recommend and train patients on using assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, to compensate for joint limitations and enhance mobility.

3. Enhanced Quality of Life

Physical therapy goes beyond physical improvements and extends to enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with RA. This includes:

  • Education and self-management strategies: Physical therapists educate patients about their condition, empowering them to make informed decisions about their care and manage their symptoms effectively.
  • Pain coping mechanisms: Physical therapists teach relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, to help manage pain and improve emotional well-being.
  • Promoting independence and self-efficacy: By enhancing physical abilities and reducing pain, physical therapy empowers individuals with RA to maintain independence and engage in activities they enjoy, contributing to a higher quality of life.

determine the appropriate timing and approach for physical therapy.

Which is the best exercise for rheumatoid arthritis?

There are many great exercises for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but some of the best include:

  • Low-impact exercises: These exercises are easy on the joints and can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance. Examples include walking, swimming, water aerobics, and cycling.
  • Range-of-motion (ROM) exercises: These exercises help keep the joints flexible and prevent stiffness. Examples include arm circles, leg swings, and neck rolls.
  • Strength-training exercises: These exercises help build muscle strength, which can support the joints and reduce pain. Examples include lifting weights, using resistance bands, and doing bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges.
  • Balance exercises: These exercises help improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls. Examples include standing on one leg, walking heel-to-toe, and tai chi.

Here are some additional tips for exercising with RA:

  • Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.
  • Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
  • Warm up before each workout and cool down afterward.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Exercise in a warm environment.
  • Use assistive devices if needed.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Regular exercise can be a great way to manage RA symptoms and improve your overall health and well-being.

What exercises should be avoided with rheumatoid arthritis?

While regular exercise is essential for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms and improving overall health, it’s important to choose exercises that are safe and appropriate for your condition. Certain types of exercise can exacerbate joint pain, inflammation, and damage. Here’s a guide to exercises that should be avoided with rheumatoid arthritis:

  1. High-impact exercises: These activities put excessive stress on the joints, potentially causing further inflammation and damage. Avoid activities like running, jumping, jogging, aerobics, and high-impact sports like tennis or basketball.
  2. Exercises that involve twisting or jarring movements: These movements can strain the joints and increase the risk of injury. Avoid exercises like deep lunges, high knees, plyometrics, and twisting crunches.
  3. Weight lifting with heavy weights: While strength training can be beneficial for RA, lifting heavy weights can put undue stress on the joints. Instead, focus on bodyweight exercises and light weights with high repetitions to build muscle strength without overloading the joints.
  4. Exercises in extreme temperatures: Cold and hot weather can exacerbate RA symptoms. Avoid exercising outdoors in extreme cold or heat, and opt for indoor activities or adjust your exercise schedule to cooler or warmer parts of the day.
  5. Exercises that cause pain or discomfort: If an exercise causes pain or discomfort, stop immediately. Pushing yourself through pain can worsen your condition and lead to further damage.
  6. Activities that require prolonged joint compression or repetitive movements: Avoid activities that involve prolonged kneeling, squatting, or repetitive hand movements, as these can strain the joints and increase inflammation.
  7. Exercises without proper warm-up and cool-down: Always warm up before exercise to prepare your muscles and joints, and cool down afterward to aid in recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
  8. Exercises that aggravate existing injuries or joint conditions: If you have any other injuries or joint conditions, consult with your doctor or physical therapist to determine which exercises are safe for you.

Remember, the key to exercising with RA is to listen to your body and choose activities that are gentle on your joints.


is physio good for rheumatoid arthritis?

Yes, physical therapy, also known as physio, is highly beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints. Physical therapy can help manage RA symptoms, improve joint function, and enhance overall quality of life.

Is heat contraindicated for rheumatoid arthritis?

No, heat is not generally contraindicated for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In fact, heat therapy can be a helpful way to relieve pain and stiffness in the joints.

Is rheumatoid arthritis contraindicated for massage?

Massage therapy is generally considered safe for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and beneficial experience.


Physical therapy offers a multitude of benefits for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. By effectively addressing pain, improving joint function, enhancing quality of life, slowing disease progression, and reducing healthcare costs, physical therapy plays a vital role in RA treatment and management.

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I am a highly skilled and experienced content writer with a Doctorate in Therapy degree. With a deep understanding of the human body and a passion for health and wellness. I combines my clinical expertise and writing skills to create valuable and engaging content.

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