Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints, such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. But unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing painful swelling that can potentially result in bone erosion and joint deformity. This happens because your immune system attacks the synovium, which is the lining of the membranes that surround your joints. The inflammation that follows thickens the synovium and can eventually destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint. The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together weaken and stretch, causing the joint to gradually lose its shape and alignment.
Symptoms can include the following:
Joint pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, warmth, stiffness
Loss of joint range of motion
Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
Loss of joint function
Symptoms and signs of rheumatoid arthritis may vary in severity, or they may come and go. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis may cause joints to deform and shift out of place. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent discomfort and swelling in your joints.
Doctors are unsure of what starts the process of rheumatoid arthritis, but a genetic component appears likely. Your genes are not the cause, but they can make you more susceptible to environmental factors such as infection with certain viruses and bacteria. This can potentially trigger the disease.
Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. It can occur at any age, but most commonly begins in middle age. Your family history can be a factor as well; if a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk. Cigarette smoking can increase your risk, especially if you have a genetic predisposition for developing the disease.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Improvement of symptoms and function are common with physical therapy. Treatment focuses on exercises and manual treatment to improve range of motion, flexibility, joint mobility, and strength. It will also help patients learn to modify their activities to be more joint-friendly. Our Aquatic Therapy program has a positive impact on motion and flexibility, reduces pressure to joints, and can increase the blood flow to the pained areas.
Peak Physical Therapy
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