Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)


Physical Therapy

First Advisor

Peggy Mohr


Arthritis, Rheumatoid -- therapy; Hand Strength


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease of the synovial joints. The hand and wrist are the most commonly involved. The disease is characterized by pain, inflammation, limited range of motion, and destruction of bone and articular structures. In the later stages of RA, the person usually exhibits deformity of the affected joints. This can result in the inability to use the hand in a functional manner.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately one percent of the population. A person with RA usually has increased medical expenses. It is likely that the person will experience a loss of productivity and income due to disability. The mortality rate of individuals with RA is increased when compared to the general public.

The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of RA including a history of the disease, prevalence, cost and work disability, and mortality that results from RA. In addition, the etiology and pathology of RA and common deformities of the wrist and hand that result from the disease process will be discussed. Physical therapy treatment of RA including patient education, splinting, surgery, exercise and modalities is reviewed.

The physical therapist can be instrumental in educating the patient about their disease, appropriate joint protection and energy conservation techniques, and correct use of exercise and modalities to relieve pain and improve hand function.