Physical Therapy Modalities for Rheumatoid Arthritis

6th Aug 2015

Posted by Sara Zuboff on

Physical Therapy Modalities for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints of patient’s hands and 

Rheumatoid Arthritis Affected Joint Vs Normal Joint

feet. This autoimmune disease attacks the joints and other body parts. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of patient’s joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. Unfortunately, this makes everyday tasks next to impossible when a patient is in the middle of a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare-up. While there isn’t a cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, physical therapy can go a long way towards reducing pain and inflammation while maintaining a patient’s independence. Many RA sufferers lack knowledge of treatment modalities available to them outside of prescription pain medication. Educating patient’s of their treatment options will help the nearly 1.3 million Americans who suffer from RA know that there is help available and that with early treatment, they will be able to lead an active life.

5 treatment modalities for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  1. Ultrasound Therapy: Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to create a gentle heat that increases blood circulation to patient’s deep tissues. A recent study for The Cochrane Field of Rehabilitation and Related Therapies studying the impact of ultrasound therapy on arthritis patient’s hands showed that not only did the ultrasound therapy treatments decrease pain, but also increased a patient’s range of motion and grip strength.
  2. Paraffin Therapy: Paraffin wax has a very high heat capacity, meaning it is able to absorb and retain a great amount of heat. A paraffin wax bath takes advantage of paraffin's heat-retaining capacity in a simple process called heat transfer. Paraffin therapy is extremely beneficial for arthritis in the hands. Data suggests that the use of paraffin bath therapy at the beginning of a physical therapy treatment increases an arthritis patient’s ability to perform therapeutic exercises.
  3. Low-level Laser Therapy (LLLT): The low level lasers of LLLT are able to alter cellular function and have been found to be effective in the treatment of Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis. This non-invasive treatment reduces pain, inflammation and also increases flexibility.
  4. Electrical Stimulation (E-Stim): In a study designed for the Cochrane Collaboration, electrical stimulation was found to significantly increase hand strength in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients following a treatment and aid in fatigue resistance.
  5. Hydro Therapy Tub: This ideal treatment involves sitting or putting affected limbs in a whirlpool bath. Sitting in a whirlpool bath has been found to relax muscles, reduce pain and condition the body without the added stress on the body’s joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms can be debilitating and effect a patient’s independence. Seeking help in physical therapy may seem daunting to a RA sufferer, because there may be fear of the more active treatments; i.e. therapeutic exercise and functional stretching. It’s imperative to educate Rheumatoid Arthritis patients on the myriad treatments available to them which are non-invasive, effective and can provide the relief they need to maintain their function.