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For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the following treatments can help to manage pain, inflammation, stiffness, and decreased functioning:

Heat improves blood circulation to the treated area. Applying heat via warm soaks, whirlpools, paraffin, or heating pads can be very soothing. Most doctors recommend that you apply the heat for about 10 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day.

Cold can help decrease inflammation in an affected joint, thereby relieving pain and improving stiffness and movement.

Apply an ice pack for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times each day. Do not put the ice directly on the unprotected skin.

In this therapy, the affected joint is injected with a solution containing a corticosteroid medication

Steroids can help decrease inflammation and therefore pain in the joint. Sometimes, your doctor will remove excess joint fluid from the joint just before injecting the steroid medication.

Steroid injections often have to be repeated every several months. Most practitioners believe that you shouldn’t get more than three or four such injections in a year. More injections may cause damage to the joint cartilage.

Physical therapy can help you decrease pain and stiffness, increase muscle strength, develop flexibility, and improve stamina. Physical therapists can teach you exercises to do on your own, or you can attend regular physical therapy sessions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and stress reduction techniques, like meditation, can ease the difficulties of living with a chronic, painful condition.

If you are having trouble getting around, a cane or walker may help. In addition, a variety of devices are available to help you with tasks that RA can make difficult or impossible, such as buttoning or zipping your clothing, opening jars, opening doors, and other activities of daily living. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of assistance you need. He may recommend a consultation with an occupational therapist.

This is a treatment that involves filtering your blood through a medical device that removes antibodies. The rest of the blood is then returned to you. The procedure takes about 2 hours and is usually done weekly for 12 weeks. Side effects may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Achy muscles
  • Weakness
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Nausea

Some people with RA become depressed and anxious. Consider finding a support group where you can meet other people who have learned to cope with the challenges of RA. Sharing your own experiences and learning from the struggles and triumphs of others can be helpful.


Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/rheumatoid-arthritis. Accessed July 24, 2013.

Rheumatoid arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Updated April 2009. Accessed July 24, 2013.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated July 2, 2013. Accessed July 24, 2013.

4/16/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Zautra AJ, Davis MC, Reich JW, et al. Comparison of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76:408-421.

Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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