Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hydrotherapy and Low-impact Exercise for RA

Physical therapy is an effective and safe treatment for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But how does physical therapy help with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and how long will you have to do it?

This article answers these questions, as well as gives you tips on the benefits of physical therapy for RA.

In-depth Articles on Other Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

Physical therapy arms you with the necessary strength to take control of your RA-related pain and other symptoms. There are 2 main types of physical therapy treatments: Passive treatments and active treatments.

Passive treatments involve the physical therapist doing the majority of the work. For example, massage is a passive treatment. Active treatments, on the other hand, involve you doing the work, such as strengthening exercises. Both types of treatment can significantly help ease painful rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.

Your physical therapist will develop a physical therapy program just for you—one that will most likely involve a combination of active and passive treatments.

Passive Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Cold therapy reduces circulation, which ultimately decreases swelling. For example, a cold compress may be placed on the painful area.
  • Heat therapy eases muscle tension and gets blood to flow more quickly to the painful area. For example, a moist, warm cloth may be used to promote circulation.
  • Hydrotherapy involves reducing your RA-related pain and other symptoms with water. With hydrotherapy, you will be submerged in warm water to relieve your symptoms.
  • Massage can help reduce muscle tension and promote good circulation. It's also a fantastic way to help you manage stress (especially important for people with rheumatoid arthritis).
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) works by blocking pain signals from getting to your spinal cord. It also helps decrease muscle spasms.
  • Ultrasound creates warmth using sound waves, which enhances circulation and decreases joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness.

Active Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Flexibility and strengthening exercises improve your range of motion and help you build muscle strength. Yoga and Pilates are flexibility and strengthening exercises.
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise is gentle but effective at helping you manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Light walking is an example of this type of exercise.

Your physical therapist will let you know how often to do these exercises. For example, you may need to do a few specific exercises 3 times a day, or your physical therapist may recommend a routine that incorporates 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise a day and 30 minutes of strengthening exercises every other day.

Remember to take your time with active treatments—ease yourself into them, especially if you haven't been active in a long time. Some mild soreness is normal, but if you have pain or new symptoms that last longer than a few days, call your doctor right away.

Although physical therapy can help ease chronic pain, joint inflammation, and other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, check with your doctor to see whether physical therapy is a treatment option for you for managing rheumatoid arthritis.

Updated on: 11/19/15