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Explore This IssueJune 2019
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Kim Steinbarger, PT, MHS, knows how physical and occupational therapy can make a difference for patients with rheumatic diseases. Ms. Steinbarger was just two years into her career as a physical therapist (PT) when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 1991.
“I’ve seen how regular exercise serves as an important tool in managing rheumatic disease, making muscles stronger and joints more flexible,” says Ms. Steinbarger, director of clinical education at Husson University’s School of Physical Therapy in Bangor, Maine. She credits her own exercise regimen, including tae kwon do, with helping her maintain functionality.
Ms. Steinbarger is one of many PTs across the country who work with rheumatologists as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Despite advances with new targeted therapeutics, research has shown physical therapy can help patients with rheumatic diseases better cope with pain and inflammation. In addition, PTs work closely with occupational therapists (OTs) who teach rheumatology patients ways to improve their overall daily function.
For patients who struggle to complete daily living tasks or have significant impairments in strength, range of motion and balance issues, PTs and OTs can work with rheumatologists to offer patients both pain relief and an improved quality of life. In some cases, such as knee osteoarthritis, research has shown physical therapy can help delay knee replacement surgery.
“PTs and OTs are an integral part of the rheumatology team and can help with patient education, pain management and mobility,” says Robert Richardson, PT, MEd, FAPTA, a physical therapist at Maria Parham Health, Henderson, N.C. “Rheumatologists often only have a limited amount of time with patients, but PTs and OTs can supplement that with half-hour to 45-minute appointments and provide an extra level of care through physical therapy sessions and a home exercise regimen.”
The Rheumatologist recently spoke with Mr. Richardson, former president of the ARHP (now the Association of Rheumatology Professionals [ARP]), as well as other PTs and OTs, to determine how rheumatologists can better utilize both professions in their practice and work together to provide better patient outcomes.
Teach Patients to Self-Manage
For patients with a rheumatic disease that limits their activities, PTs and OTs can complement traditional medical care by identifying treatments that help patients maintain function and quality of life. As part of her doctoral dissertation, Ms. Steinbarger is working to develop a program that would teach self-management skills to patients newly diagnosed with autoimmune diseases, particularly those with RA.
“Although it can seem counterintuitive to patients with arthritis, one of the most important things they can do is move,” Ms. Steinbarger says. “Starting an exercise regimen, such as swimming, walking or yoga, can improve strength, prevent muscle loss, improve balance and benefit their overall health.”
Often, Ms. Steinbarger works with an OT to help patients make modifications that make their life easier.