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Rheumatoid arthritis is not only a painful and debilitating disease. It is also a risk factor for other diseases, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. Research shows that these diseases can be curbed with exercise and other lifestyle changes.
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For people with rheumatoid arthritis, life is a constant learning process. Each time you do a new exercise, you find out if it makes the condition feel worse or better. People with rheumatoid arthritis may feel fatigued. They may have a lot of pain and stiffness in their joints.
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Physical therapy is one way to combat the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. It will be an ongoing treatment that will require constant effort for the rest of the patient’s life. It is common, however, for exercise and other therapies to be so helpful for rheumatoid arthritis that the patient will be motivated to continue doing these exercises.
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Physical therapists understand how all the parts of a person’s body work together to create movement. Bones, muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons: physical therapists know how they work together to make a person walk or stand. With this knowledge, physical therapists can devise ways to help people stay in motion. This is the most important part of rheumatoid arthritis treatment.
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Early in a person’s treatment, a plan will be formed. It will include ways to prevent disability from rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, the focus will shift to more of a here and now approach to treatment. Exercise will be more targeted to the problem at hand.
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Water exercises can be used for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These exercises give the patient much needed strengthening and stretching exercises. At the same time, there is little to no stress on the joints or spine. Physical therapists use water exercises as an important part of the treatment plan.
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Strengthening exercises help the muscles provide more support for the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Without adequate muscle tone, patients will have more difficulty walking or doing other normal movements. Rheumatoid arthritis will dominate movement, not muscle-dominated movement.
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Heat therapy can be used along with ice therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. The physical therapist can tell the patient when and how often to put on a heat or ice pack. Other heat therapies are administered by ultrasound.
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Patients with rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from manual procedures, such as massage. With the stiffness that accompanies rheumatoid arthritis, a person is very limited in how much he can move his joints. Massage can improve movement and greatly increase this range.
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One of the most important functions of a physical therapist for a person with rheumatoid arthritis is to serve as a motivational coach. The physical therapist should be trained in the psychology of chronic disease and pain management. She will be there to encourage you to keep trying, keep moving, and never give up.
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Physical therapy is only part of the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. For example, diet and medication may also be used. However, without physical therapy, many people with this disease would have worse pain.