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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Usually when people talk about “arthritis”, they mean osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is very different, but can be easily confused.


Basics of Rheumatoid Arthritis

As the name suggests, RA is under the umbrella of rheumatology. Osteopaths are qualified to help manage the symptoms of rheumatoid pain, but we cannot cure it. RA is an autoimmune inflammatory disease. There are often genetic links, and a number of other conditions are related to it. If we suspect you might have RA, we will ask about your personal and family history of conditions like ulcerative colitis and psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms begin between your 20s and 50s, and may be triggered by a traumatic event. Traumatic onset is not always due to physical trauma, emotionally traumatic events can trigger it too.

Small joints (hands, feet, neck) are normally affected first. Osteoarthritis (OA) can affect these joints too, but we often see OA in the hips and knees. Location of symptoms can help with diagnosis.

Symptoms of RA

RA causes episodes of joint inflammation, followed by a period of repair. As a result, symptoms will change over time. Joint pain and stiffness are the main symptoms, but you may also notice heat over the affected joints. Inflammatory conditions are aggravated by too much or too little movement. So you might find that it takes longer than normal to get going in the morning, and that intensive exercise makes things worse.

Long Term Effects

Over time, joints are subject to deformity and hypermobility. Finger deformities can be a key sign for suspecting Rheumatoid Arthritis. Some lumps on the knuckles can be the result of either OA or RA, but swan neck deformities and ulnar deviation are signs of RA.

Rheumatoid arthritis vs osteoarthritis in the hands

Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

We reiterate the importance of your GP and Rheumatologist if you have RA. A diagnosis usually requires blood tests and sometimes imaging to confirm. Your specialist will prescribe you medication where appropriate, which aims to minimise flare ups and subsequent damage.

Your osteopath can look at the way the body compensates for the arthritis. When the neck is affected, it can become hypermobile. Although mobility is usually a good thing, when there is too much it causes aches and pains elsewhere. In this case, the neck muscles have to work harder to support the joints and prevent them from moving too much. If this is combined with an inefficient neck posture (such as a forward posture associated with desk work), symptoms can develop quite severely. If the neck muscles are tight, you might also develop headaches, or upper back tightness.

When muscles are overworked, we can help to strengthen them with exercises. If there are work related problems, we can advise changes to make specific to your body- general ergonomics aren’t always perfect. We can also help to mobilise and relax stiff joints and tight muscles. Not only does this help with local discomfort, but it can allow movement to come from a more broad area, taking the load off of the arthritic joints.


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