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What treatments are there for rheumatoid arthritis?

Although there’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis yet, a variety of treatments are available that can slow down the condition and keep joint damage to a minimum. The earlier you start treatment, the more effective it’s likely to be.

The three main aspects to the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • drugs
  • physical therapies
  • surgery. 

Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis

Four main groups of drugs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis:

Most people with rheumatoid arthritis need to take more than one drug. This is because different drugs work in different ways. A common combination is a painkiller, an NSAID and one or more DMARD. If you take two or more anti-rheumatic drugs they can be more effective than just taking one and there are no extra side-effects. Because DMARDs take some time to start working you may also be given a steroid, which can reduce the inflammation and ease your symptoms while the DMARDs are taking effect.

Your drug treatment may be altered from time to time depending on how active your arthritis is or in response to changes in your circumstances. For example, you may be advised to stop taking a particular drug if you need surgery.

Physical therapies for rheumatoid arthritis

Looking after your joints is very important in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise is an important part of this, and a physiotherapist can suggest different exercises that may help ease your symptoms, strengthen muscles and stretch your joints safely. You may find that hydrotherapy (exercising in a warm-water pool) helps to ease your symptoms.

Read more about exercise and arthritis.

A podiatrist can help with problems with your feet and ankles. They can suggest appropriate footwear for both daily life and sport.

Read more about footwear.

If you’re having difficulty with day-to-day activities an occupational therapist can suggest ways that you could do them without putting too much strain on your joints. They can also give you information on splints if you need supports for your hands and wrists.

Read more about occupational therapy and arthritis and splints for arthritis of the wrists and hands.

Surgery for rheumatoid arthritis

Surgery is occasionally needed for rheumatoid arthritis. Operations vary from quite minor ones such as the release of a nerve or a tendon to major surgery such as joint replacement. Hip, knee, shoulder and elbow replacements are highly successful operations.


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