Should I Have Some Physical Therapy for RA?

Last updated: February 2021

I have been fortunate to have had some really talented and outstanding physical and occupational therapists to work with over the years I have had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so I will qualify this article by stating that it has been very useful for my RA management.

That may not be the case for others with RA. Regardless, the decision to pursue physical therapy is not to be done lightly. Consulting with your medical care team is essential.

Previous experience with PT and OT

My first experience was with occupational therapy (OT) after having some wrist surgery due to RA. Not only did it reduce pain and speed up the healing, but it also improved my range of motion. The exercises and tips provided made a huge difference in my recovery.

I first had physical therapy (PT) after having some extensive foot surgery that included having my big toe joints fused on both feet. I actually requested it because I thought it might help me establish a better gait and reduce pain. It was incredibly helpful and I believe moved along my healing and overall progress considerably.

Both of the above cases were fairly direct and clear as to the benefit of the OT and PT. What I have come to learn is that PT can be extremely useful as a tool to manage my RA.

Benefits of physical therapy

I had an issue with my shoulder and neck last year that was causing not only ongoing pain but was restricting my ability to exercise and function on a daily basis. I suspected I had done something to it while preparing to move my household but, the fact is, the cause was not really that important. I needed to get this addressed.

I tried a variety of home remedies to no avail. I discussed it with my rheumatologist and asked if I could try some PT. He agreed. At first, I was skeptical as it was tough to pinpoint if it was my shoulder or my neck; even my spine was suspected as being involved. 

A resource for tips and suggestions

But much to my surprise and satisfaction, the PT sorted it out with very extensive assessments and we got to work. Within a few treatments, I began to see improvement, and eventually, I fully recovered. The best part is that I now have an arsenal of exercises to do should it return.

I recently injured my hamstring and, after suffering for several weeks, I requested a prescription for PT and, just like in the past, it has helped me tremendously. In this case, suggesting the use of an ergonomic crutch/cane has made a huge difference in my recovery. Something that no one had suggested.

I also had some pre-surgery PT in the past that has been very successful. Most of us think of PT for after surgery, but I was having a surgery that required that I have some additional tone and strength prior. I have no doubt that the PT made the healing process move along much better and quicker had I not done it.

PT tools for my RA management

One of the interesting aspects of PT practices today is the arsenal of tools they have. I have had ultrasound massage, cold therapy, kinesthetic taping, heat, and TENS therapy, etc., over the years as part of my own personal PT plan. Add to that sophisticated assessments and at-home exercise plans, it all adds up to be a very valuable tool for me in the management of my RA.

For anyone who is recovering from surgery, not progressing after an injury, or just needing some physical tips for daily living, occupational and/or physical therapy is an option worth exploring.


By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?