Did you know that one in every six Canadians aged over 15 years old suffers from arthritis? And these numbers are expected to see a huge rise: by 2036, the number is expected to pass 7.5 million people. Rheumatoid arthritis is a difficult-to-treat, lifelong immune disorder known to significantly decrease the quality of life and stop people from living the life they want.
People with rheumatoid arthritis have elevated levels of interleukin-6 in the fluid of their joints, which is known to contribute to the symptoms of inflammation and destruction of the joints associated with the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is often described as a ‘hidden’ illness because the symptoms are not clearly visible, but they have a drastic impact on the lives of people affected by it and their loved ones. Many healthcare providers are challenged with finding a treatment that works for their patients, who typically experience debilitating symptoms including joint pain, swelling, stiffness fatigue, and eventually joint damage and disability.
Sadly, a cure has not been found yet. However, science is pushing boundaries with the introduction of biologic medicines and targeted treatments. Equally important are a prevention of joint damage and functional loss and management of the symptoms. Before we dive into ways of doing this, it is important to note that once the damage of a joint has happened, it is impossible to fix it without undergoing surgery.
Besides drugs and surgery, healthcare professionals most often recommend physiotherapy. Here, the practice aims to prevent or delay disability depending on the severity of the case, increase the body’s functions, alleviate pain, boost flexibility and strength and encourage the patient to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle by encouraging regular exercise and a balanced diet.
Here, it is important to distinguish between the many sub-treatments of physiotherapy that are usually used in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. One would be a cold therapy which, as you probably guessed, involves ice. The average temperature of the body’s joints is usually around 33 degrees, while in rheumatoid arthritis it can spike up to 36 degrees, thus damaging the cartilage. Ice helps regulate the temperature and can help constricting blood vessels resulting in a decrease in inflammation and pain levels. At the opposite pole and depending on the case, a physiotherapist can also prescribe heat therapy which works by reducing muscle spasms and improving the tissues’ elasticity.
Another option which is very much enjoyed by patients and reported to have amazing health benefits is electrostimulation physiotherapy. This technique works through minor electrical currents applied to the skin through electrodes. Unfortunately, this option provides short-term effects, of just over 12 hours which means that the patients will eventually feel the pain again. Nevertheless, it is a preferred medical solution as opposed to painkiller prescription.
A physiotherapist will also put together physical activities suggestions which the patient can incorporate into their daily routine. These activities can vary, depending on the phase of the disease and they can involve anything from swimming, walking, cycling to stretching or joint protection exercises.