Rheumatoid Arthritis is a condition of serious inflammatory that affects the joints. This medical condition is also an autoimmune one that stems from the immune system fighting the good cells in the body. The attack leads to inflammation and swelling on the attacked parts.
Rheumatoid Arthritis mainly occurs in the joints leading to pain and damage. Body tissues are also likely to be affected. The pain could happen in the arms, legs, feet, toes, hands, fingers, or wrist. Long-term rheumatoid arthritis may affect the organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, etc. Children and older people can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no specific known cause of this disease. It can, however, occur as a result of the following;
Genetics And Hereditary
Family history and genetics can lead to an increase in the possibility of having rheumatoid arthritis. It is pretty inheritable, which means if one person or more in the family has rheumatoid arthritis, there is a high tendency that others will be prone to it.
Also, some genetic markers such as HL4-DR4 have been associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Most people with these genes are likely to develop this medical condition.
Rheumatoid Arthritis may occur at any age. However, older people tend to be prone to it. Aging increases its chances. Rheumatoid arthritis may start between the ages of 25 to 60 years. People around over the years are also susceptible to the disease.
Obesity is one of the likely causes of rheumatoid arthritis. Too much fat leads to the production of proteins that lead to inflammation of the joints, leading to joint deformity. People that are obese are at more risk of being affected by RA.
Being overweight leads to too much weight on the joints and ineffective response to medications.
Long-term exposure to smoking increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies have been made to back up this claim. Smoking can lead to inflammation of joints, but it also spreads the rash to other parts—smoking results in little or no response to RA medications.
Symptoms Showing Rheumatoid Arthritis
The primary symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are;
● Extreme pain in the joint(s)
● Loss of weight
● Constant tiredness associated with fever
● Stiffening of the joint(s)
● Tenderness and swelling of the joint(s)
● Pain and stiffness occur on both sides If the same joint(s)
● Flare is the increase in the pain level and symptoms. It occurs after a long time without pain (known as remission).
Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The long-term effects of rheumatoid arthritis are;
People with rheumatoid arthritis are at risk of developing heart diseases. Heart diseases are mainly the primary cause of death in RA cases. Increased pressure in the heart leads to the inability to pump blood to other parts of the body. RA can also result in high blood pressure, imbalanced cholesterol levels, and stroke.
Over time, untreated RA leads to joint damage. This could result in permanent damage to cartilages, tendons, and bones. Damaged tendons will later result in rupture.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This condition is characterized by aches and tingling sensations in the hands. This is caused by nerve squeezing as a result of rheumatoid arthritis.
Other complications are lung diseases, dry eyes, pain in the eyes, bone loss, and inability to produce red blood cells.
Treatment For Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no certain cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be treated and managed through;
● Medications like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief. Examples of mild pain relief drugs are ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.
● Biologic response modifiers like tocilizumab and leflunomide for slowing down the effects of RA.
● Weight loss and change in diet are also recommended for obese people with rheumatoid arthritis. This is to reduce the weight on their joints.
● Use of steroids for fast pain and inflammation relief.
● Surgical procedures such as replacing joints and tendons have also proved helpful.
● Other surgery options are synovectomy and joint fusion.
It is essential to visit and discuss these treatment options with your doctor before commencing treatments.
Role Of Physiotherapy in Rheumatoid Arthritis
The expertise of physiotherapists has been used in the treatment management of rheumatoid arthritis cases. Modalities such as cold/hot therapy, massages, or muscle training through exercises are adopted for treating RA.
Physical therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis can be used in two different ways, actively or passively.
This treatment focuses on physical activities for treating RA, as follow
Exercises such as jogging, hiking, running, and swimming are recommended for people living with rheumatoid arthritis. Aerobic exercises are easy to practice and cause no muscle strain.
Other benefits of aerobic exercising are steady heart rate, stability, increased movement, and flexibility.
You can practice aerobic exercise for 30 minutes. It is better to start gradually to avoid stressing the joints.
Muscle And Strength Training
Strength training exercises build up the muscles and strengthen the affected joint. Dumbbells, resistance bands, or machines can be used to strengthen the affected joints.
● Start by getting in a comfortable position.
● Lift the lightweights while lifting your body along.
● Repeat 15 – 20 times, three times a day.
It is important to take rest alternately while undergoing the strength training exercise. Also, be careful not to practice strength training during rheumatoid flares.
Simple stretches can be included in your daily exercises. The affected parts like the wrist, ankle, toes, shoulder, and elbows can be stretched. Stretching reduces the stiffness and pain felt in the joints.
● Start by making a fist with both hands.
● Raise your hands forwards.
● Rotate your wrists in circles clockwise and anticlockwise.
● Repeat this for a few minutes or as long as you can.
● Stretch your legs while sitting or laying down.
● Gently curl your toes to face downwards.
● Uncurl your toes gently to their normal position.
● Proceed to extend the toes upwards and downwards.
● Do this 15 times.
● This can either be done while sitting or laying down.
● Extend your legs in front of you.
● With your toes pointing forwards, move your ankles towards and away from you.
● Repeat this 15 to 20 times
● Stand straight with your legs shoulder-width apart
● Place your hands on your hips and bend forward.
● Make sure your knees are bent.
● Rotate your hips in circles about 15 times.
● Repeat clockwise and anticlockwise.
Other stretching exercises are wrist flexion, ankle rotation, bicep curling, cat-cow stretch, etc.
Passive treatment for RA doesn’t involve physical exercises. Another person carries them out on the RA patient, for example, the rheumatologist. Some exercises as below
Massages help to relieve the pain felt by RA patients. Although this is effective for pain relief, it is also temporary. The massages can be carried out by a masseur, your physiotherapist, or yourself. Massage processes for RA should involve light touches and slight pressures.
The types of massages for RA are Swedish and Shiatsu massages.
It is advisable to inform your doctor before booking a massage appointment.
Physiotherapists use this therapy to reduce RA inflammation. Apart from imaging, ultrasound sends warm waves to the body. The ultrasound waves produce heat to massage the tissues and relieve pain.
Applying a cold or warm compress to the pain’s surface helps reduce joint stiffness and pain. The cold and the heat soothe the pain, increase blood flow, and relax the muscles.
For cold therapy;
● Ice packs, ice cubes in towels, or frozen items can be used.
● Place the cold compress on the affected part for about 15 minutes.
● Make sure there’s a thin barrier between the compress and your skin.
For heat therapy;
● This could be moist or dry. Warming pads, towels, saunas, baths, or showers can work.
● Repeat for 15 minutes, 1-3 times daily.
● Ensure the temperature is warm and not too hot.
Hydrotherapy is the introduction of water in treating health conditions like RA patients. It works for relieving pains felt in the joints and strengthen the muscles. The temperature of the water in hydrotherapy pools is warm, around 34°C. Your physiotherapist will guide you on movements to make in the pool.
Rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation. It is a severe health condition that results in joint damage, and other complications are not treated. There is no specific cause. However, there will be other risk factors such as aging, smoking, genes, or obesity. The condition can be managed through physical therapy, medications, or surgery.