Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is often confused with osteoarthritis, but the two are very different.


Rheumatoid Arthritis vs Osteoarthritis

Both conditions can cause joint pain, stiffness, and a loss of movement. But rheumatoid arthritis also:

  • affects a younger population, with symptoms typically starting between 30-50 years old
  • causes symptoms in small joints first, such as the hands, feet, and neck
  • can relapse and remit, meaning there may be periods during which you are totally symptom free

At a physiological level, osteoarthritis is generally considered to be a mechanical issue of “wear and tear”. In contrast, RA is autoimmune and inflammatory. The body attacks a layer of cells in the joint, causing damage and inflammation. When the inflammatory period passes, the body attempts repairs, but the results are generally not very good, and often lead to deformities in the hands especially. Some of these deformities are illustrated below.

Rheumatoid arthritis Alsager


Other Rheumatological Conditions

The top image also mentions AxSpA and PA (psoriatic arthritis). Both of these condition are also autoimmune and cause joint pain that has some similarities to RA. Blood tests may also show the same markers between all three. AxSpA primarily affects the lower back, but often causes problems in the heel and upper back too. Psoriatic arthritis is usually associated with flares of psoriasis, but symptoms do not always completely mirror the location of the skin condition.

Symptom Management

Because RA is a condition in which the body attacks its own tissues, it cannot be cured by osteopathy. If you already have a diagnosis of RA, you should have met with a rheumatologist who can advise you on the best course of treatment. This might include medications that either manage symptoms or address the root cause (anti-rheumatic drugs or immunosuppressants). If you have not had a formal diagnosis, we may refer you back to the GP just to make sure your condition is properly managed within the medical system. We can continue to work with you during this period.

Osteopathy and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Alongside medication, RA may respond well to treatment to manage the symptoms. Neither too little or too much movement or exercise are any good for a joint afflicted by RA, and we can help to strike that balance.

When RA has affected an area for a long time, it can cause hypermobility within the joint. As the ligaments can no longer keep movement within the intended range, the local muscles have to work harder to support the joint. This can lead to fatigue, and the over-recruitment of other muscles to ease the load. If the neck is affected, it might also lead to headaches. Treatment for the neck may be three-fold:

  • gentle joint articulation to encourage movement through more stiff joints, and to flush through inflammation
  • massage and stretching to relax tight and overworked muscles
  • strengthening exercises to ease the demands on the affected muscles

The best course of action will vary from person to person, and often the treatment plan will need modifying as we go in response to flares and remission periods.

Contact us on 077 7593 1609 to make an appointment in Alsager for your arthritis