Can Physical Therapy Help with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Did you know?

  • RA affects 0.4-1% of the population in North America
  • 2-3 times more common in females than males 
  • Most commonly diagnosed in women 30-60 years of age
  • Individuals with RA are 8 times more likely to have the functional disability compared with adults in the general population from the same community
  • It can be diagnosed in pediatric population and it is known as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) 
  • Close to 50% of patients with the disease become disabled within 10 years

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Many people know someone with arthritis or have it themselves. However, what is rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and what makes it different from other forms of arthritis? Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic, inflammatory condition that causes pain, joint destruction and disability. The cause is unknown and there is no cure. Although the exact cause in unknown, genetics and some environmental risk factors play a part in getting the condition. Some risk factors that may be associated with RA are female gender, smoking, air pollution, obesity, high sodium and iron consumption and low vitamin D levels.

RA causes the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. This inflammatory process can cause joint pain or can possibly be more severe. In most severe cases the body attacks its internal organs and causes death. RA can affect almost every organ in the body. However, most common symptoms are pain, stiffness, weakness, fatigue and joint deformity (nodules-lumps felt under the skin). Symptoms are the same on both sides and often occurs in hands, elbows and toes. If and when it occurs in the spine, it can lead to symptoms such as numbness and tingling in arms/hands and headaches. Others may present with fever, weight loss, anemia, dry eyes and mouth. 

RA is diagnosed via lab work, X-ray and/or MRI’s.

Management of RA

In addition to medical and nutritional treatment, RA is treated and managed with physical and occupational therapy. Therapy goals are to decrease pain, improvement disease management knowledge and to help the patient get back to their life. Physical therapy can be used to:

  • Improve participation and independence with daily activities
  • Improve muscle strength and flexibility
  • Improve joint motion and stability
  • Decrease fatigue
  • Increase aerobic capacity
  • Increase quality of life

Physical therapy helps patients get back to a life they enjoy by using the following treatments:

  • Exercises
  • Patient education
  • Joint and fall prevention
  • Energy conservation

All in all, physical therapy treatment is focused on improving quality of life while living with a progressive disease.

Contact Us!

Check out this link to learn more about our pathology series. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and you’d like to learn more about how physical therapy can help, give us a call today! New Jersey has direct access which means you can come see us without seeing your doctor! We can see you quicker than you could get in to see the doctor, while also saving you both time and money!  

Please, call us to schedule your evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester (908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy!

Park, Y., & Chang, M. (2016). Effects of rehabilitation for pain relief in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Journal of physical therapy science28(1), 304–308.

Krati Chauhan; Jagmohan S. Jandu; Mohammed A. Al-Dhahir. Oct 2019 RA Available from: (last accessed 23.2.2020)

Deane KD, Demoruelle MK, Kelmenson LB, Kuhn KA, Norris JM, Holers VM. Genetic and environmental risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology. 2017 Sep 18.