Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

Medications, Exercise, and Surgery for RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment is tailored to the patient—that is, your treatment plan may not exactly match that of someone else with RA.  That’s because doctors take into account how severe the disease is, your current lifestyle, and other conditions you may have.

However, all treatment plans will share the same general goal:  slow down the progression of RA, preserve joint mobility, reduce inflammation, and help you try to maintain your lifestyle.

RA treatment plans are also generally very aggressive.  The medical community knows that the earlier you find RA and start treating it, the less of an effect it has on the patient’s life.  With aggressive treatment, you can prevent some of the severe joint damage that comes with rheumatoid arthritis.

In-depth Articles on Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

There are many medications available to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis—the pain and inflammation.

  • Analegics:  Analgesics address pain, but they don’t address inflammation.  Acetaminophen and morphine are examples of analgesics.
  • Anti-depressants:  You don’t have to be depressed to use anti-depressants; these can help block pain messages on their way to your brain, changing the way your body interprets the joint pain of RA.  Duloxetine is an example of an anti-depressant.
  • Corticosteroids:  These can reduce inflammation and slow joint damage.  Prednisone is a corticosteroid.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):  NSAIDs address pain and inflammation.  COX-2 inhibitors are a newer class of prescription NSAIDs that your doctor may recommend for RA.  Celecoxib is the only FDA approved  COX-2 inhibitor on the market.

Some medications available for rheumatoid arthritis can slow down the progression of the disease.

  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs):  As the name says, DMARDs can slow down the progression of RA—they can modify the disease.  DMARDs can prevent joint damage, but they’re usually combined with an NSAID (which will treat the pain and inflammation as the DMARD treats the disease process).  Methotrexate is an example of a DMARD.
  • Biologic response modifiers:  These medications also modify RA—they work on the immune system.  They inhibit cytokines, which are proteins that contribute to inflammation.   Etanercept is an example of a biologic response modifier.

Exercise and Physical Therapy
Exercise is key for people with rheumatoid arthritis; it can help you maintain joint mobility.  Also, you’ll strengthen the muscles that support the joint, making it easier for the joint to work.

The idea of exercising when your joints are so painful may sound impossible, but especially when your RA is in remission (the inflammation isn’t as present), exercise is extremely beneficial.

You can do low-impact exercises, such as bicycling or swimming.

Maintaining flexibility through stretching exercises is also good for people with RA.

You can also do strengthening exercises, and here’s a tip about doing strengthening work, even when your joints are painful:  you can do isometric exercises.

In those exercises, you use resistance to strengthen your muscles, but your joints and muscles don’t actually move.  For example, you can contract your thigh muscle and hold it for a few seconds—that is an isometric exercise working your leg muscle.

Work with a physical therapist to help you develop an exercise plan that works for you.

Surgery for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis, especially severe or debilitating RA, may be helped by surgery.  You may have a knee or hip replacement to address an extremely damaged joint.

Your primary doctor treating you for rheumatoid arthritis will make the best recommendation on whether you should have surgery.

If you start a rheumatoid arthritis plan early—and if you treat RA aggressively—it can have less of an impact on your life.

Updated on: 11/19/15