Physical & Occupational Therapy: Benefits For RA Patients

Vanessa Collins Health Guide
  •  Occupational Therapists work with patients to lessen inflammation and increase strength in their hands, fingers, elbows and arms. This is a broad generalization, but Occupational Therapists work on the arms and hands, while Physical Therapists work on the joints of the shoulder, knees, ankles, hips, neck and back.


    I have been going to Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy for the last three weeks. I go three times a week and have an hour session with each therapist.


    I am the only patient at the Physical Therapy Center with RA at this time. Most of the people I see there are recovering from hip and/or knee replacement surgery. There are a few who are going through rehabilitation from a work injury, and a few young athletes recovering from sports injuries. Most of the patients there are older than I am, and I am 57.

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    I want to share my experience with you, so that you know what to expect if you do go to therapy. There are many treatments available. Some are more beneficial to RA patients than others.


    My Occupational Therapist wraps my elbows in warm, moist heat for 10 minutes at the beginning of every session. This feels wonderful, and helps loosen up my elbow joints. The next step in my therapy is massage of both sides of the elbows where the tendons attach to the bone. Both of my elbows are swollen and painful at the moment, and this massage therapy also feels wonderful. The final, and last step, is ultrasound therapy. I have found this particularly helpful in easing pain and inflammation.


    It is best to stick with the same therapist for these sessions. Unfortunately, sometimes they switch you to a different therapist now and again due to scheduling conflicts. This actually happened to me, and it was not a good experience. The new occupational therapist I saw last week must know very little about RA. She decided I was going to build muscle strength. She had me lift one-pound weights and do bicep curls......20 at a time! I cannot do 20 bicep curls at the moment, even with a small one-pound weight! My elbows are too inflamed to be doing this at this time.


    I don't know why I just didn't stop and tell her, but I didn't. Consequently, I had pretty intense elbow pain for three days after this particular session. I will not let his happen again.


    The physical therapy for my left knee has helped a lot with the stiffness, pain, and inflammation. My therapist evaluated my muscle strength in my left leg and decided it was very weak. He started me out slowly and increased the repetitions of the exercises as my strength improved.


    One of the first things I do is ride a bicycle for ten minutes to loosen up the muscles in my leg. After that is done, I move on the the hip abductor exercise machine, and some others. One day my usual PT was absent, and I had a new therapist. That was not a good thing.


    This therapist had me do the hip abductor machine before I rode the bicycle. My muscles were not warm and were tight because I had not stretched them out on the bicycle. This, of course, caused increased pain. Live and learn, I guess! What was I thinking?!?


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    The best part of therapy on my knee is the ultrasound. It is very good at reducing the pain of inflammation. The swelling in my knee has actually decreased by about a third since I have been going to PT.


    I cannot end this post without sharing my discussion with Mr. PT guy. He really is good at PT, but he is sorely lacking in his knowledge of RA. I made the mistake of telling him I was going to see a rheumy soon because my referring orthopedic doctor suspected RA. Mr PT guy's comment: "No pill is going to fix your knee. PT will."


    There was no wall close enough to me for head banging, so I just sighed heavily and decided to save my breath for myself. This man was so cocky and sure of himself, that I decided to let him bask in his own glory. I know I should have tried to educate him about RA, but I was just too tired to even start.


    All of this makes me wonder if all physical therapists are this ignorant of autoimmune disorders, or if I was just "lucky" enough to find Mr PT guy. LOL


    My occupational therapist doesn't know much about RA either. She was totally unfamiliar with the meds used to treat RA. She did know it is a type of arthritis. I guess that is a start! Maybe I should write a letter to the American Arthritis Foundation and ask them to look into the education of physical and occupational therapists. The schools may need to add a few classes to their curriculum!

Published On: May 26, 2011