Receiving a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis can leave you feeling vulnerable and worried about what the future holds for your body. The peak demographic to be diagnosed is 50, but it isn’t uncommon to be diagnosed in your early 30’s. Women tend to be affected more than men and whilst the cause isn’t fully understood, there is known to be a genetic component which can be triggered by environmental factors such as viruses and trauma. It is important to manage your rheumatoid arthritis well, as if poorly treated it can lead to irreversible joint damage and deformity. Modern ways of management have improved vastly and those with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis will often lead a full and active life. Here, we will touch on the main symptoms of this disease and the ways in which an osteopath may be able to offer help.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) differs from osteoarthritis (OA) which is general ‘wear and tear’ of a joint, usually on one side. RA is an auto-immune condition where the body attacks the linings of the joints, eroding bone and cartilage. Whilst OA tends to affect larger joints, in RA the smaller joints are involved. The main symptoms of RA include;
- Swelling of the fingers (which can appear sausage-shaped)
- Pain and stiffness of the hands and feet that is worse in the mornings, lasting longer than 30 minutes
- Pain at the joints where the fingers connect to the hand (knuckles)
- Redness of the affected joints
- Fatigue that is more severe than normal tiredness
As rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical arthritis it will usually affect both sides of the body and often affects multiple joints. It is a systemic disease so sometimes other organs are affected such as the heart and eyes.
If you are struggling with any of these symptoms it is important to seek advice from your GP and obtain a diagnosis as soon as possible as medication is needed to reduce inflammation and slow progression of the disease.
Additionally, seeking help from a manual therapist such as an osteopath can be hugely beneficial for encouraging joint mobility and reducing pain and stiffness symptoms. Treatment is rarely painful and often relief from symptoms is experienced straight away. An osteopath will use a variety of techniques such as;
- Soft and deep tissue massage – to encourage increased blood flow to muscles and joints and reduce muscular pain and stiffness
- Lymphatic drainage techniques – to reduce associated swelling of the joints and ease the tightness that can be felt in the limbs
- Joint mobilisation – these are gentle techniques that encourage flexibility of the joints and ligaments through traction and movement, helping to reduce the feelings of stiffness
- Specific exercises and stretches – these are tailored to each individual and are designed to strengthen muscles and improve joint function.
Jenny is a 55 year old receptionist. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her mid 40’s for which she is medicated, but has only sought osteopathic treatment over the last few years. Her primary symptoms are bilateral hand, wrist and finger pain, stiffness and swelling with intermittent involvement of her ankles. Her symptoms are generally managed well with gentle traction and mobilisation of the upper limb joints and work into the muscles and fascia of the hands and forearm which are prone to over-tightening. She avoids impact exercise and finds most relief from aerobic-based exercise in water and swimming which help to traction the joint surfaces and ease pressure. We recommended regular stretching to the upper limb muscles to reduce tension related stiffness and hand strengthening exercises to encourage muscle contraction and drainage of the finger swelling.
This type of treatment could also be applicable to other types of inflammatory arthritides such as psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, but is tailored to each individual accordingly.
If you, or someone you know, have received a diagnosis of a chronic inflammatory condition, there is no need to just accept pain and discomfort. Often there are effective techniques that can reduce your joint pain and swelling and help you live life to the fullest.
Please contact us to find out more, or to ask any questions.