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Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are 200 different types of 'arthritis', which are split into three categories:

  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Non-inflammatory arthritis
  • Connective tissue disease

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory arthritis that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, particularly of the hands, feet and wrists. Other parts of the body can be affected, but these are the most common. It affects people differently - there may be times when the condition relapses (a flare-up) and other times when it calms, but there is usually no apparent reason as to why the inflammation occurred or what caused it to settle down.

Flare-ups are characterized by the following features:

  • Pain, loss of strength and movement in inflamed joints
  • Stiffness is usually worse in the mornings or after rest
  • Anaemia and tiredness
  • Feeling unwell, weight loss and muscle pains

Rheumatoid arthritis is estimated to affect 400,000 people in England and Wales, and more frequently females. Most commonly it affects people between the ages of 40 and 70, however, it can affect people of any age and certain genes may trigger the development of RA.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system of the body attacks its own tissues. Usually RA is symmetrical but not often to the same degree each side. For example, if the right knee joint is affected, the left knee joint is also often affected.

If you suspect that you have RA, it is imperative to seek medical advice from your doctor. You will usually be referred to a joint specialist (a rheumatologist) to confirm the diagnosis and to advise on treatment. Early treatment is very important because any joint damage done by the disease is permanent. There is no cure for RA, but treatment to relieve the symptoms is effective and can improve the outlook.

The treatment aims to:

  • Decrease disease activity as much as possible
  • Reduce pain and stiffness in affected joints as much as possible
  • Minimise any disability caused by pain and stiffness from the condition
  • Treat other symptoms of the disease if they develop
  • Reduce the risk of developing associated conditions

Treatment tends to involve medication, manual therapy, exercise and lifestyle advice.

  • A manual therapist (Chiropractor, Osteopath or Physiotherapist) can advise on exercises to help mobilise and keep the muscles and joints strong.
  • Splints may also be advised to allow the joints to rest if needed.
  • A musculoskeletal doctor would be able to perform steroid injections directly into a joint. This is sometimes used to treat a bad flare-up in one particular joint.
  • Keeping active with regular exercise, such as swimming, is important to maintain joint strength, joint function and reduce pain.
  • An occupational therapist can advise on adaptations in the home to make daily tasks easier if they become difficult.
  • Surgery may be an option if joint damage is severe. 


"Rheumatoid Arthritis", NHS choices, Your Health, Your Choices. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Rheumatoid-arthritis/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
"Rheumatoid Arthritis", ArthritisCare.org.uk. Web. 11 Feb. 2012. http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/AboutArthritis/Conditions/Rheumatoidarthritis?gclid=CLi-h9nooq4CFRQMfAodmTIwZQ.
"Rheumatoid Arthritis", Patient.co.uk. Web. 11 Feb. 2012. http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Rheumatoid-Arthritis.htm.
Tortora, Gerard J., and Bryan Derrickson. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006. Print.