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The Benefits of Graded Exercise Therapy for Rheumatology Conditions

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There are a significant number of rheumatology conditions that predominantly involve inflammation of joints or the soft tissues of the body. If uncontrolled this inflammation has numerous and wide reaching effects. It can affect the condition of the joints and reduce movement due to pain, swelling or in some cases deformity.  It can also reduce the flexibility of skin and soft tissues and it can have systemic effects such as excessive fatigue, lack of sleep, and stiffness in joints particularly in the morning, as well as digestion issues.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Graded Exercise is Tailored to You

A lot of patients with a rheumatology condition struggle with the idea of exercise at first as they have had bad experiences or it has been inappropriately taught and explained in the past. It is common to struggle with too high a level of exercise and activity initially or when the condition is in a flair-up. Specialist physiotherapists will be able to help you identify these times and fluctuations and design a personalised programme that will change depending on these conditions. They will also help you with adapting the intensity and amount you do in different stages, and they will help you with gradually increasing the intensity and difficulty as you progress. This is called ‘graded exercise’ and has been shown in numerous studies to reduce pain levels, increase quality of life and ease of day to day functional activities such as gardening and cleaning.

Break the Cycle

Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) aims to steer away from the vicious cycle of doing too much exercise, becoming tired, doing nothing, and then pushing yourself too hard all over again.  Working with a physiotherapist, you are encouraged to find what you can do comfortably.  Then, over a period of time you are slowly encouraged to increase the amount of exercise and the length of time you do it.

Only Do As Much as You Can

For instance, if you are very ill, your first activity might be picking up an object.  This could then be increased to getting out of bed, and then walking down the stairs.  The other main point of GET is that you should not feel exhausted at the end of completing your chosen exercise.  If this is the case, it’s a sign that you should be decreasing the amount you do.

Old lady doing exercise

Through GET, physiotherapists can treat the symptoms associated with rheumatology conditions as well as put in place appropriate exercises to prevent permanent changes in joint movement, reduce stiffness, increase flexibility, improve strength around a joint, reduce pain and improve energy levels. Improved muscle tone can also improve oxygen movement and circulation around the body, therefore keeping it efficient in its energy use.

Have you experienced GET?  What improvements did you notice?  Let us know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter!

Post by Leanne Plenge, Physiotherapist and Bristol Manager.