An autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is caused by the immune system attacking the joints of the body causing redness, pain and swelling. Most commonly felt in the hands and feet, rheumatoid arthritis also affects the elbows, shoulders, neck, jaw, ankles, knees and hips.
1 in 100 Canadians or 300,000 individuals are inflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, women three times more often than men. RA commonly appears in individuals between the ages of 25 and 50 and may appear gradually or as what appears to be a sudden, severe case of the flu.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include prolonged morning stiffness, pain in multiple joints of the body simultaneously and pain in the same joints on both sides of the body (known as symmetrical pattern). The disease may be mild with only occasional periods of inflammation followed by periods of remission. In other cases, the disease will continually flare-up and appear to get worse over time causing fatigue and weakness. These cases may be accompanied by fever, weight loss and severe joint pain.
If this inflammation is not treated it can lead to joint deformity, disability and painful swelling in the eyes, lungs and heart. Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated by a rheumatologist and if the right course of treatment is started early, individuals can avoid serious joint damage and lead active and productive lives. There are many ways to minimize the discomfort caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Exercise can help reduce the pain as well as help to prevent further strain on the joints by ensuring a healthy body weight.
Applying a heat source during the chronic phase can help relax aching muscles and reduce joint pain.
Applying ice during the acute phase decreases inflammation and helps with pain reduction.
Pacing (alternating heavy or repetitive tasks with easier tasks or breaks), positioning joints wisely or supporting them with splints or orthotic devices, and using assistive devices such as canes can make everyday tasks less strenuous
Employing relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises can help relax the muscles around the inflamed joint, releasing built-up pain.
Surgery may also be a way to relieve discomfort in cases of severe, advanced rheumatoid arthritis.
The physical pain of RA may also be accompanied by feelings of helplessness and depression. These feelings can be combated by learning daily living strategies to better manage rheumatoid arthritis.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known but research has shown that there is a gene that influences the tendency to have it. Not everyone who has the gene will develop the disease.
Talking to your RMT and outlining a treatment plan for massage therapy will help you with RA. Your RMT can give you an exercise program along with the manual therapy typically associated with seeing a registered massage therapist.
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