Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation and stiffness in your joints as well as pain, fatigue, and emotional distress. It can even lead to permanent joint damage, resulting in loss of function and mobility.
These symptoms may require you to make modifications in your day-to-day life. Occupational therapy (OT) can address some of your concerns and provide you with ways to manage RA.
OT is one of many types of treatments that can help you live with this condition. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of OT and what it involves.
An occupational therapist can work with you to improve how you perform activities of daily living if your RA limits your functioning.
OT can include interventions for:
- performing chores
- cooking, bathing, and getting dressed
- participating in hobbies
The goal of OT is to help you adapt to your physical limitations so you can successfully complete activities in your daily life.
An occupational therapist may recommend certain exercises, adaptations, and devices you can wear or use. They’ll evaluate your individual situation to customize your therapy as well as ask about your symptoms and day-to-day needs.
They may also perform assessments to determine where you need help. These tests measure how well you can move and operate your joints.
Occupational therapists may even administer a survey to gauge your mental health.
Working with an occupational therapist may improve your RA symptoms in several ways. You may find that it:
- improves your ability to function despite joint limitations
- prevents your symptoms from getting worse
- prevents deformities by helping you complete activities without straining or misusing joints
- decreases pain
- helps fight fatigue
- aids your ability to perform activities independently
- allows you to cope with the limitations of your condition and prioritize what’s important in your life
Managing these factors can contribute to living a full life that includes the ability to work and socialize.
OT can’t bring mobility back to permanently damaged joints.
However, occupational therapists can help you navigate your daily life and give you realistic expectations of what you can and can’t accomplish with your RA symptoms.
After evaluating your current condition and discussing your limitations and needs, an occupational therapist will put together goals for your treatment.
- working around your joint pain
- avoiding long periods of staying still
- finding exercises that build muscle and strength
- limiting activities that can lead to fatigue
Your therapist may decide that one or more of these interventions can help you manage RA.
Your OT may recommend regular exercise, including cardiovascular exercises or strength and resistance training. These activities may involve:
- practicing tai chi or yoga
- lifting weights
The exercise that’s best for you will depend on your symptoms. For example, swimming may be a good fit if you have pain or stiffness in your knees or feet.
If you try yoga, you may need to modify certain poses depending on your joint mobility. Your occupational therapist can give you tips on how to get the most out of your exercise routine.
Limited mobility and dexterity in your joints may affect your ability to complete fine or gross motor tasks, like buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. An occupational therapist can help you practice modified ways of completing these activities.
They may also recommend you purchase different tools to help you with these tasks. For example, kitchen utensils and personal care products with larger handles and grips may be useful.
Assistive device utilization
Your occupational therapist may recommend certain assistive devices to improve everyday functioning.
These may include:
- tools that can apply heat or cold to your joints to warm and loosen them or cool and soothe them
- bars and other supportive equipment for areas where you need to get up and down
- wheeled carts, suitcases, and storage devices to avoid unnecessary lifting
- compression sleeves that can support your joints
- splints to cushion, reinforce, or ease joint movement
Your therapist may also offer training for how to use assistive devices given to you by your doctor, such as canes or walkers.
Figuring out how to work with RA symptoms may be difficult. An occupational therapist can suggest modifications to help you continue to perform your job.
These adaptions may include:
- physical changes to your office
- different electronic equipment
- ergonomic positions for proper posture
- stress management techniques
Your occupational therapist may talk with you about your lifestyle and suggest modifications or methods to manage your symptoms.
This can include healthy lifestyle habits like eating a well-rounded diet or getting enough sleep.
It may also involve getting out your calendar and managing your daily and monthly schedules together. You can identify upcoming activities and schedule rest.
Your occupational therapist can help you prioritize important events and encourage you to avoid overbooking yourself.
Discuss the option for OT with your doctor. Treating RA can involve many approaches. Your goal should be to reduce symptoms so that you can live your life as fully as possible.
You may not need OT if you take medications that reduce your symptoms, but OT can help by providing recommendations on how to best protect your joints.
You may also consider it if:
- You have limited joint mobility from past RA flares.
- The medication doesn’t eliminate all joint pain and stiffness.
- You seek to manage your condition without medications.
One way to manage RA symptoms is through OT.
Finding an occupational therapist to help you make modifications in your life can keep you active and increase your mobility. These may include changes to how you complete tasks, exercise, work, and manage your time.