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Occupational Therapy’s Role in Transforming Rheumatoid Arthritis Management

Do you know that over 1.3 million adults in the United States live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? If you are one of them, you understand the daily challenges this chronic inflammatory condition brings. However, have you considered the profound impact that occupational therapy can have on managing RA and improving your quality of life?

Let’s explore how occupational therapy for rheumatoid arthritis helps individuals with RA regain independence, alleviate pain, and enhance overall well-being.

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. But did you know that RA can also impact your ability to perform everyday tasks? Simple actions like getting dressed, cooking, or even holding a pen can become overwhelming and painful. This is where occupational therapy steps in.

Occupational therapists (OTs) are highly trained professionals who specialize in helping individuals with physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges regain and maintain their ability to engage in meaningful activities. When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, these highly-trained experts play a critical role in addressing the specific challenges faced by individuals with this condition.

Restoring Independence

Living with RA can make you feel dependent on others for tasks you used to do effortlessly. Occupational therapy aims to restore and maintain an individual’s ability to engage in daily activities. Through personalized interventions, therapists help people with RA develop strategies to overcome physical limitations and adapt to their environments.

Activities of daily living

One important aspect is addressing the activities of daily living (ADLs). These include tasks such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and eating. Your OT will assess your specific needs and may recommend modifications to your home or the use of assistive devices to make these activities more manageable.

Occupational therapists can guide you in finding alternative ways to perform tasks, such as using adaptive tools or implementing joint protection techniques. By learning these strategies, you can regain independence and confidence in your ability to carry out essential daily tasks.

Click here for some specific recommendations on self-help devices from the Arthritis Foundation.

Pain Management

Chronic pain is a common and distressing symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. It can significantly impact your ability to function and enjoy life. Your occupational therapist is trained in pain management techniques and can provide valuable guidance to help you cope with the pain associated with RA.

Thermal modalities

One effective method used in occupational therapy for pain management is thermal modalities, such as heat and cold therapies. Applying heat to affected joints can help relax muscles and reduce stiffness, while cold therapy can alleviate inflammation and provide temporary pain relief. Your therapist can guide you on when and how to use these modalities safely and effectively.


In addition to thermal modalities, occupational therapists may recommend splinting as part of the pain management strategy. Splints can provide support and stability to affected joints, reducing pain and allowing for improved function. OTs are skilled in assessing your specific needs and can custom-design splints to provide optimal support and pain relief.

Relaxation techniques

Furthermore, your therapist can show you relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness, to help manage pain and reduce stress. By incorporating these techniques into your daily routine, you can enhance your ability to cope with the challenges posed by rheumatoid arthritis.

Joint Protection and Energy Conservation

Living with RA often requires carefully managing your energy levels to avoid fatigue and joint strain. Occupational therapists specialize in teaching joint protection and energy conservation techniques, which are essential for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

Join protection techniques

Joint protection techniques involve using your body in a way that minimizes stress on the affected joints. OTs can teach you proper body mechanics, such as using larger joints instead of smaller ones to perform tasks, distributing weight evenly, and avoiding repetitive movements that strain the joints. By implementing these techniques, you can reduce the risk of joint damage and decrease pain during daily activities.

Energy conservation techniques

Energy conservation techniques focus on pacing activities and managing daily routines to prevent exhaustion. Occupational therapists can help you identify your energy patterns and prioritize tasks to ensure that you allocate your energy effectively throughout the day.

They may suggest:

  • breaking tasks into smaller, manageable parts
  • taking frequent breaks, and
  • using assistive devices or adaptive equipment to reduce the strain on your joints.

By implementing these strategies, you can conserve energy, reduce pain, and accomplish more throughout the day without overexerting yourself.

Emotional and Psychological Support

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can take a toll on your emotional and psychological well-being. OTs understand the impact of chronic illness on mental health and provide crucial support in managing the emotional aspects of RA.

Your therapist can help you develop coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression that may arise from living with a chronic condition. He or she may recommend relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, and engaging in meaningful activities to promote a positive mindset and enhance emotional well-being.

Furthermore, this type of therapy often involves working with individuals in a group setting, such as support groups or rehabilitation centers. Participating in group therapy can provide a sense of community and shared experiences, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering emotional resilience.


Rheumatoid arthritis presents unique challenges, but occupational therapy offers a pathway to improved functionality and enhanced quality of life. Whether it’s regaining independence, managing pain, learning practical strategies, or providing emotional support, occupational therapists play a vital role in empowering individuals with RA to live life to the fullest.

Contact a Carespring rehabilitation, assisted living, or independent living center near you today and take the first step toward a more fulfilling life with rheumatoid arthritis. Our dedicated professionals are trained to provide individualized care, helping you regain independence, alleviate pain, and enhance your overall well-being.

Remember, you don’t have to face rheumatoid arthritis alone. Let occupational therapy at Carespring be your guide to a brighter, more empowered future.