Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself, a chronic progressive disease causing inflammation. The immune system which normally protects the body by attacking bacteria and viruses, mistakenly attacks the joints. Inflammation can commonly occur in joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. However it can also affect the skin, eyes, lungs and nerves, as it is a systemic (whole body), autoimmune disease.
White blood cells move into the joint and release chemicals which attack the synovial membrane. Synovial membrane becomes thickened and inflamed, this causes the joint to swell and redden. Over time, if inflammation is allowed to continue, the chemicals continue to attack the cartilage and bone causing erosion at the joint. The joint space becomes narrowed; in severe cases the joint may become fused.
Signs and symptoms:
- Multiple joints can be effected, especially smaller joints such as the hands and feet
- Symptoms on both sides of the body
- Swelling, heat, inflammation and redness at site
- Also affects the organs including the eyes and ears
- Pain and joint deformities
- Fatigue and fever, loss of appetite
- Prolonged stiffness for periods greater than 30mins
- Reduced function
Risk factors for RA:
There are several RF which can predispose a person to develop RA.
RA can occur at any age but is most common in people aged 40-60. It is more prevalent in Women than Men.
A Family history of RA can determine a person’s risk of development.
Cigarette smoking can also increase a person’s chance of developing the disease.
A multidisciplinary team of medical professionals are required for the management of RA. Physiotherapists play a vital role in its management and can provide services such as education, functional exercises, guidance, appropriate strengthening, aerobic and stretching exercise programs, and manual therapy. It is important to contact your GP if you think you may have RA as medical management is important.
- Swimming can be a good aerobic activity without much pressure through sore joints
- Ice can help with swelling, pain, redness and inflammation of joints if you experience acute pain, whereas heat can be helpful for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles
- Try to stay active, but try to pace your daily activities, taking breaks when required
- Flare ups need to be managed with rest and joint protection
- Try to eat foods that are rick in antioxidants to control and reduce inflammation, for example fish, fruit, vegetables etc.
- For more information you can visit the ‘Arthritis Foundation’ website.