How Physical and Occupational Therapy Help for RA

Because you have rheumatoid arthritis, you'd probably benefit a lot from physical therapy and occupational therapy. It’s often part of the RA treatment plan.

Healthy joints are the "hinges" that let you move around. Many of us take that for granted. These simple movements aren't always automatic or easy when you have RA, though. They can be painful.

The goals and treatments used by physical therapists and occupational therapists sometimes overlap, but there are some general differences.

Physical Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The goal of it is to keep you moving. It uses exercise and other methods to stimulate muscles, bones, and joints. The result is more strength, tone, and overall fitness.

Physical therapists understand the mechanics of bones, joints, and muscles working together, the problems that can happen, and what to do about them. It’s a good idea to work with a therapist, whether you’ve had RA for a long time, you’re newly diagnosed, and no matter how severe it is.

In the early stages of the disease, your physical therapist can check on your strength, fitness, and how well your joints work. She'll make an exercise plan to keep your joints as healthy as possible.

If you have moderate or advanced rheumatoid arthritis, physical therapy can help you keep or improve your strength and flexibility.

Together, you’ll make a plan for each muscle and joint group, and for your overall fitness. It will probably include:

Exercise. This is the cornerstone of any physical therapy plan. It will match your ability and fitness level, and include flexibility, strength, and cardio (aerobic exercise).

Heat or ice. Treating inflamed or painful joints with heat or ice packs helps some people feel better.

Massage. It can also help you feel better.

Motivation and encouragement. It’s a big plus to have a pro to cheer you on and push you to keep going.

Occupational Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

This helps you stay independent. A therapist will check to see what you need help with. Then, he can teach you better or easier ways to accomplish those things.

If activities like dressing, cooking, or bathing become hard or painful, occupational therapists can recommend or provide solutions. Assistive devices are products or improvements that make common tasks easier.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on June 24, 2019



Arthritis Foundation website: "The Role of Physical Therapy in Management of Patients with Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis." 

de Jong, Z., Arthritis and Rheumatism, September 2003. 

Frontera W., Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Hanley & Belfus, 2002. 

Li, L., Current Opinion in Rheumatology, March 2005. 

Steultjens, E., Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, January 2004.

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