Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis With Occupational Therapy

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where your body attacks healthy tissue and joints, causing pain, swelling, stiffness and deformities in the hands and other joints. There is no cure for RA, but occupational therapy can be used to help manage symptoms when RA affects the hands, giving you a better quality of life.

How is treating someone with rheumatoid arthritis different that treating someone with osteoarthritis?

You may by wondering how treating rheumatoid arthritis could be any different than treating other degenerative conditions? RA progresses in a different way than osteoarthritis, therefor it requires a different treatment plan.

Treatment with degenerative conditions can often be more conservative (at least at first) because these conditions can take a long time to become notable and even longer before they greatly interfere with your ability to complete tasks. But with rheumatoid arthritis, patients sometimes progress much faster and often require surgery sooner. If the patient is referred to therapy for early intervention (like flare-up management or slight loss of function), more conservative measures can be used to slow the progression, like hand rehab, custom orthotics and ergonomic training. In advanced cases, your primary care doctor or rheumatologist would recommend surgery from a board certified hand surgeon for correction. These procedures range from tissue removal and fusions to joint replacement and deformity correction. After surgery, occupational therapy would be initiated to help regain as much function as possible..

What does Occupational Therapy typically focus on when treating a patient with RA?

For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, there are a few key components that therapists may focus on as part of the recovery plan:

  • Joint Protection- these are techniques that you can incorporate into your everyday activities. They help to reduce risk of injury or further stress on your joints.
  • Ergonomic set-up – proper use and arrangement of your home and office equipment can reduce pain and strain on the hands and wrist.
  • Pain management- there are ways of alleviating pain outside of medication, we can teach you some!
  • Custom orthotics- we build custom orthotic devices specific to meet your needs
  • Adaptive equipment- these are devices that help with your daily life, such as canes, grip aids and specialized kitchen tools.

How long does this type of treatment generally last?

If surgery has been performed, patients are on a typical 2-3x per week for 4-6 weeks schedule. After that or if conservative appointments are made for maintenance, therapy sessions can range from once per week to once per month based on symptoms and needs.

Tips for dealing with RA at home?

You never know when a flare up could render your hands useless! If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to set your home up for success by investing in some adaptive equipment and practicing joint protection techniques to limit the stress on your joints. This could be simple things, like building up handles to make them larger, using automatic can openers and using thicker writing utensils.

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and are looking to find some relief, contact us today so we can help you along your journey to recovery.

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