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How Physical Therapy Can Help With Autoimmune Diseases

 Women's Therapy Center June 03, 2014
 
Jan Tregre, DPT 
By Jan Tregre, DPT, Southern Physical Therapy and Women’s Therapy Center

Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis (MS), and systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE or “Lupus”) can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and even painful, swollen joints, through chronic inflammation of different systems and organs in the body simultaneously. The most common medical treatment for autoimmune diseases is either long-term steroids or other disease-modifying drugs. While medical management is necessary, physical disabilities can occur due to the various symptoms of these diseases. Physical therapy restores the functional ability lost to the consequences of joint pain, deconditioning, and even neurological symptoms of the disease.

An individually-tailored physical therapy program consisting of gentle flexibility, strengthening, and endurance training can benefit many people with autoimmune diseases. Appropriate exercises can:
  • Reduce joint stiffness and improve range of motion
  • Strengthen muscles to stabilize joints
  • Improve cardiac endurance
  • Retrain neurological coordination to reduce fall risk
  • Reduce stress and weight gain
  • Improve sleep patterns
  • Decrease feelings of depression often associated with disability

Patients with SLE (lupus) often have reduced capacity for exercise, reduced muscle strength, and increased disability and fatigue. Studies suggest that it is important to improve fitness levels in order to manage fatigue, depression, and disability in SLE. Treatment depends on the extent of the disorder and the patient's individual needs. Physical therapy plays a valuable role as part of a holistic treatment plan for patients with lupus.

One of the primary symptoms of RA is joint pain and swelling. Working with a physical therapist can help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disability because of the disease. The overall goal of physical therapy is to restore, maintain, and promote function, fitness, and health.

Clinicians who treat patients with autoimmune diseases specialize in therapeutic approaches that are both effective in the functional restoration of their patients and are well tolerated by patients who can be severely deconditioned and have extreme joint fragility. Aqua or “pool therapy” can be a valuable addition to an existing care plan, or even as a primary restorative treatment.

Pool therapy helps to minimize joint stress and unload bodyweight from painful joints. It does this by decreasing gravity through buoyancy in the water. Water temperature can also be regulated to decrease stiffness through warmth or minimize overheating through coolness during exercise. Decompression of spinal nerve roots or joint spaces, such as with arthritic degeneration and inflammation, allows the patient to move and exercise in a safe and well-tolerated environment.

Physical therapy can help with the many effects of autoimmune diseases. Specialized exercises prescribed by a skilled clinician can serve the patient well to counteract deconditioning, fatigue, pain, and dysfunction that can accompany these chronic diseases.

For more information on physical therapy and how to reduce symptoms of pain and dysfunction related to chronic medical conditions, contact Southern Physical Therapy at 601-336-8287 or visit our clinician, Dr. Jan Tregre, PT, at 7 Willow Bend Drive in the North Lake Serene Office Park on Hwy 98 W in Oak Grove.

Photo credit: Photos.com/Thinkstock Back to Top

 Women's Therapy Center| June 03, 2014

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