Rheumatoid Arthritis

A Few Small Tips for Great Relief

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that afflicts thousands of people, causing pain, stiffness and progressive strain on the joints. Apart from medication, patients can take a number of steps to relieve the symptoms and protect their joints. The desire to give them a try is mostly all you need.

A few words about the illness

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system turns against the body itself, and specifically against the joints, for reasons we are not aware of. It affects about 2% of the population, women three times more often than men, and usually at the ages of 35 to 55.

Usually, it is the small joints of the hands and feet that become painful, swollen, hot, and stiff due to inflammation. Stiffness is worse in the morning while, in addition to the small joints of the fingers and toes, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles may also be affected.

There are often more generalised effects, such as fatigue, lowgrade fever, anaemia, and less often nerves, blood vessels, lungs and eyes are affected. Some sufferers present painless hard lumps (rheumatic nodules) in parts of the body that are under pressure e.g. elbows.

The disease is characterised by an unpredictable cycle of relapses and remissions. On a long-term basis and especially without close monitoring and treatment, the joints can become deformed.

Diagnosis and initial treatment

The diagnosis is made by clinical examination and the taking of a detailed medical history. An important element is identification of a specific antibody known as the ‘rheumatoid factor’ (RF) found in 90% of patients and more rarely in other conditions. The progress of the disease is monitored by TCR and CRP blood tests, while the condition of the joints can be checked via x-rays. Treatment by a specialist rheumatologist is always personalised, depending on the gravity of the arthritis and the specificities of each patient.

The role of the patient

Proper regulation of medication is the duty and responsibility of the attending physician. But this is not enough by itself It is up to sufferers to take a few simple steps and acquire a few ‘good’ habits in order to limit the impact of symptoms, protect their joints and improve their quality of life.

Relief of Symptoms

It has been found that the application of localised heat on the affected joints can help reduce the symptoms and alleviate pain and stiffness. A hot shower in the morning or an electric blanket can significantly reduce morning stiffness. Other methods are use of hot water bottles, paraffin baths, heat lamps, and so on. In all cases, however, care must be taken not to cause burns.

In certain circumstances, it may be preferable to apply localised cold compresses. This is useful when the primary symptom is acute inflammation. This is usually determined by testing and discussion with the rheumatologist in order to clarify appropriate cases.

Exercises and rest

It is essential to maintain normal joint mobility. The aim here is to maintain and/or increase the range of joint movement through a daily exercise program. These exercises should be performed
even when the disease shows aggravated symptoms, although at reduced intensity. On the other hand, it is important not to overdo things on “good’ days. Equally important is maintaining muscle strength and endurance, since muscle atrophy is not uncommon, due to inflammation and immobility. This can be accomplished by isometric exercises that do not strain the joints, and when there is no inflammation, light isotonic exercises can also be performed. Rest between exercise sessions should never be omitted. A comprehensive an exercise program can be developed with the help of the attending physician and a physiotherapist