5 Things to Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

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rheumatoid arthritis physical therapy

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition that causes inflammation in the joints, affecting the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles. The pain of rheumatoid arthritis can cause deformity or immobility in these locations in the body. While there is no cure, the disease can be managed through a rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan.

Medications come with Side Effects

After you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will likely prescribe medications to help manage the pain. The type and amount of medication will vary depending on the severity of your condition.

Here are some common medications, what they do and their side effects:

  • NSAIDs: NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation in the body. There are also over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). There are also stronger NSAIDs that your doctor can prescribe. Potential negative side effects of NSAIDs include: ringing in your ears, stomach irritation, heart problems and liver and kidney damage.
  • Steroids: Corticosteroids (prednisone) are prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain, and also to slow joint damage. Long-term use of steroids can come with many negative side effects, including thinning of bones, weight gain and diabetes.
  • DMARDs: DMARDs, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can actually slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, and prevent permanent damage in joints and other tissues. Commonly prescribed DMARDs include methotrexate (Trexall, Otrexup, Rasuvo), leflunomide (Arava), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine). Side effects vary from person to person, but can include liver damage, bone marrow suppression and serious lung infections.
  • Biologic agents: Biologic agents are a newer form of DMARDs that target the parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation and cause damage to joints and tissue. The following are common biologic agents: abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), certolizumab (Cimzia), etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), rituximab (Rituxan), tocilizumab (Actemra) and tofacitinib (Xeljanz). Biologic agents are usually the most effective when paired with a nonbiologic DMARD, such as methotrexate. Negative side effects of biologic agents include an increased risk of infections.

Physical Therapy Can Help

Physical therapy can help you get stronger and move better, potentially even reducing pain. You will need a referral to get started with physical therapy. Ask your rheumatologist for a recommendation or visit apta.org to find a licensed physical therapist in your area.

To have a successful experience with physical therapy, set goals before you get started. Think about what you want to do, whether it’s walking around the block with your kids, picking up groceries or exercising, paint a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve. Tell your physical therapist about it, who can help you target specific areas to reach your goals.

Your physical therapist will also help you to safely push your limits. It’s important to push yourself, but you also need to listen to your body. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and overdoing it – your therapist will help you to understand the difference between the two.

Surgery Might be an Option

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