Inflammatory arthritis is a term used to describe a group of chronic conditions characterized by inflammation in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and ankylosing spondylitis (AS) are some common examples. This type of arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and redness in the affected joints, significantly impacting a person’s quality of life. RA is the most common form of the disease, a study in Nigeria revealed “RA patients present late with high disease activity and poor access to biologics. There is a need to improve early diagnosis and prompt referral to a rheumatologist” and Physiotherapists. Several studies have shown that disability due to musculoskeletal disorders has increased by 45 per cent and RA and Osteoarthritis (OA) are listed as the fastest-increasing major health conditions and ranked joint second as a cause of disability by WHO.
While medication is often a primary treatment approach, physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing symptoms, improving mobility, and enhancing overall well-being.
Physiotherapy for inflammatory arthritis aims to reduce pain, increase joint flexibility, and enhance muscle strength and endurance. It is designed to address the specific needs and limitations of each individual, taking into account the type and severity of their arthritis.
One of the primary goals of physiotherapy is to provide pain relief. This can be achieved through various techniques, including heat and cold therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and manual therapy. Heat therapy, such as warm towels or hot packs, helps to relax muscles and improve blood flow, while cold therapy, such as ice packs, reduces inflammation and numbs the area. Ultrasound and electrical stimulation are used to alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and promote tissue healing. Manual therapy, performed by a physiotherapist, involves gentle joint mobilizations and soft tissue techniques to improve joint mobility and relieve pain.
In addition to pain relief, physiotherapy focuses on improving joint flexibility and range of motion. Stretching exercises are prescribed to maintain or increase joint mobility. These exercises target specific muscles and tendons surrounding the affected joint, helping to reduce stiffness and improve overall function. Physiotherapists may also use techniques like passive range of motion exercises, where they move the joint for the patient, or assistive devices like splints or braces to support and protect the joints.
Strengthening exercises are an essential component of physiotherapy for inflammatory arthritis. These exercises aim to increase muscle strength and stability around the affected joints, helping to support the joints and reduce stress on them. Weight-bearing exercises, resistance training, and low-impact activities like swimming or cycling are commonly recommended. The physiotherapist will design an exercise program tailored to the individual’s abilities and limitations, gradually progressing as the person’s strength improves.
Another crucial aspect of physiotherapy for inflammatory arthritis is education and self-management. Physiotherapists provide guidance on joint protection techniques, energy conservation strategies, and ergonomic modifications to daily activities. They may also offer advice on posture, body mechanics, and the use of assistive devices to reduce joint stress. Education empowers individuals to take an active role in managing their condition and preventing further joint damage.
Furthermore, physiotherapy can address the impact of inflammatory arthritis on overall well-being. It may include relaxation techniques, stress management strategies, and gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi to promote mental and emotional well-being. These holistic approaches can help individuals cope with the challenges of living with a chronic condition and improve their overall quality of life.
Physiotherapy plays a vital role in the management of inflammatory arthritis. Through a combination of pain relief techniques, joint mobilization, strengthening exercises, and education, physiotherapy aims to reduce symptoms, improve mobility, and enhance overall well-being. It is essential for individuals with inflammatory arthritis to work closely with their physiotherapist to develop a personalized treatment plan that suits their specific needs and goals. By doing so, they can optimize their physical function, manage their symptoms effectively, and lead a fulfilling life despite their condition.
On the occasion of World Physiotherapy Day, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant role that physiotherapists play in assisting and aiding individuals with inflammatory arthritis. It is imperative that we embrace the chances to enhance and broaden our involvement in this area.
Ogbonna Nwajiobi Obi
Public Relations Officer
Nigeria Society of Physiotherapy