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The importance of physiotherapy for patients with rheumatoid arthritis has been highlighted in a new study.
Research carried out by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania led to the discovery that individuals who are very overweight or obese at time of diagnosis are more likely to end up severely disabled as a result of their arthritis.
The study authors, led by Dr Joshua Baker, analysed data relating to more than 25,000 rheumatoid arthritis patients over some 15 years, looking at their weight at the start of the research period, and how severely they were disabled by their illness.
It was found that those who were the most overweight or classed as obese at the beginning of the study were more likely to already be reporting some disability, with this progressing more severely over the next few years when compared to arthritis patients of a healthy weight.
These findings therefore highlight the importance of physical exercise for rheumatoid arthritis patients to help them to lose weight and potentially lessen the severity of their disability.
Commenting on the research results, Dr Axel Finckh of the Hopital Beau Sejour in Geneva, Switzerland, said: "I would say to my patients that they should aim for a slow, progressive weight loss, associated with increased physical activity, rather than aiming for unrealistic aims such as reaching normal weight."
Physiotherapy could therefore be a big help, teaching patients the best exercises that they can do themselves at home without causing any unnecessary strain. Keeping mobile and moving regularly is essential for ensuring the joints stay in good condition, and could help to prevent people from becoming too severely disabled by their rheumatoid arthritis.
However, another expert, Dr Predrag Ostojic of the University of Belgrade, suggested that the condition could be a consequence of obesity in the first place.
"Obesity may cause joint damage independently of rheumatoid arthritis, by excessive joint loading and accelerated degeneration of the joint cartilage (osteoarthritis), especially on lower limbs and spine," he explained.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that physiotherapists have an important role to play in helping rheumatoid arthritis patients to keep moving.
Written by Mathew Horton
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