I awakened one morning about four weeks ago with severe pain in my left hand and wrist. I was unable to dress myself. What a humbling and scary experience!
I scheduled an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, who ordered physical therapy for four weeks. I am happy to report that my latest experience with physical therapy has been a positive one.
I have long been conflicted over the idea of physical therapy for RA patients. This conflict stems, no doubt, from my previous experiences with physical therapists unfamiliar with RA.
My therapist’s name is Tom and he is the head therapist at the clinic. I sat there in amazement the other day as he explained what RA is like to another physical therapy patient who was curious.
The weather was changing that day and rain was moving in. Tom explained to the other patient how low pressure affects the joints, and how people with RA have joints that are already swollen and inflamed.
“When rain is moving in, the barometric pressure drops,” he said. Tom went on to explain that a person with RA feels as though his or her joints are going to burst right open. He added that when the pressure begins to rise again, the pain and discomfort decreases.
I must admit that I just sat there in stunned amazement. I finally have a therapist who understands RA.
I go to physical therapy twice a week. I was going three times a week but the driving to town and back became too draining, so we changed my schedule.
The first thing I do when I reach the clinic is to sit my purse and cane down and wash my hands at the sink in the therapy room. Then I walk over to the small room where the “wax bath” lives and I say, “Ahhhhhh” as I dip my left hand and wrist into the very warm wax.
After I’ve dipped my hand in the melted wax seven or eight times, Tom wraps something similar to Saran Wrap around my hand and wrist . Then he covers it with a terry cloth towel to help hold the heat in.
I sit with my hand wrapped like this for approximately15 minutes. The deep heat lessens the pain in my hand and wrist, and takes away a lot of stiffness.
Below is a picture of my hand before it is wrapped.
The next thing I do is play with something that is like putty, but it is very soft. The texture of the therapy putty reminds me of saltwater taffy.
I spend about five minutes pulling and twisting that putty. This is apparently strengthening my tendons, muscles and joints, because I am now able to dress myself.
I spend the next five minutes just “pulling ticks.” Seriously, that is what the therapists call it. It is a motion similar to pulling a tick off of a dog. I hold the putty in my right hand and pull little pieces of the putty away, as if I were pulling a tick off of an animal.
Last, but not least in my therapy session, is iontophoresis. My therapist injects a pad on the back of one electrode with methylpredisolone.
There are two electrodes placed on your body. The electrode with the methlpredisolone is placed on my wrist. He places the second electrode on my forearm.
These electrodes are hooked up to a little hand-held machine that generates electricity and drives the medicine through the skin and into the painful area. The time it takes to accomplish this depends on your sensitivity to the electric current.
Learn from my experience, and tell your therapist if the process is at all uncomfortable. If the machine is turned up too high, it can cause a burn and bruising. Don’t try to “tough” it out. That is not the goal of this therapy, and could cause more harm than good.
After three weeks of this therapy I can see a marked improvement in my hand function. My wrist and hand are getting stronger, and that is a great blessing.
I have been hurt by physical therapy in the past, so I was on high alert when I started this therapy for my hand. I am pleased to say that this has been a good experience for me. Tom is a great therapist. He understands RA, and he is very careful not to cause harm.
I am wondering if any of you have experiences about physical therapy you could share. Has physical therapy been of any benefit to you when RA has attacked your joints?
Published On: August 07, 2013