» Blog
» Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Back Pain?
Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Back Pain?

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Back Pain?

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Back Pain?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common autoimmune disorder that typically affects the joints in the feet, ankles, wrists, elbows, hands, and hips. Individuals with this disease also commonly suffer from back pain that arises due to the body’s immune system attacking the synovial coating of the small joints of the spine.

As RA advances, there is a high probability that affected individuals will develop back pain symptoms. Additionally, in chronic cases, rheumatoid arthritis can cause compression of not only the spinal cord but also the nerve roots, leading to mild to severe back pain.

Prevalence of Back Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

One study reveals that approximately 64.5% of individuals with RA may suffer lower back pain during the course of the disease. This study also found that individuals with RA, combined with low back pain, were not happy with their quality of life, leading to a heightened risk of depression. Other reports claim that over 80% of individuals with RA suffer spinal problems within 2 years of diagnosis.

The Role of Physical Therapy in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Physical therapy plays an integral role in the treatment of RA, helping to improve the quality of life of affected individuals. Physical therapy helps affected individuals move better, become stronger, and manage their pain.

There are two main types of physical therapy treatment options for RA: active and passive. Active treatment options involve the patient performing the tasks, such as strengthening exercises, while passive treatment involves the physical therapist performing the majority of the work. Both forms of treatment are instrumental in alleviating painful RA flare-ups. An experienced physical therapist will create a personalized physical therapy program that incorporates aspects of both active and passive treatments.

Some of the more commonly recommended treatments are outlined below.

Active Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Our physical therapists, specializing in physical therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in Boston, have a deep understanding of how muscles, bones, and joints work together, the problems that can arise in the body, and suitable solutions that are available for addressing any issues that arise as the result of RA. It is always a wise decision to seek the services of a physical therapist, whether you have just been diagnosed with RA, or if you have had it for a long period of time.

In the initial stages of RA, your physical therapist can assess your fitness, strength, and the performance of your joints. They will then develop a program to help you maintain your joint health. The prescribed treatment plan may include a variety of active treatments including:

  • Flexibility and muscle strengthening exercises: this option consists of a set of exercises to help you strengthen your muscles and improve your range of motion. Pilates and yoga are examples of flexibility and muscle strengthening exercises that your physical therapist may recommend.
  • Balance exercises: these exercises help to maintain your balance and reduce the risk of suffering a potentially devastating fall.
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise: these types of exercises, including walking and swimming, are moderate but efficient in the management of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Passive Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

In addition to active treatments, your physical therapist may recommend a variety of passive treatment options including:

  • Hot and cold therapy: although hot and cold therapy can’t cure the underlying cause of back pain, they are effective in reducing the pain and stiffness that comes with each RA flare-up. Cold therapy helps to minimize inflammation, while heat packs help to improve blood flow and soothe muscles.
  • Hydrotherapy: this treatment technique entails lowering RA-related pain coupled with other symptoms, using water. In this method, your physical therapist will submerge you in warm water to reduce your symptoms.
  • Massage: this treatment aims to reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow. Additionally, it also helps to manage stress.
  • Ultrasound: this treatment creates warmth leveraging sound waves that promote circulation and alleviate joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): this technique functions by hindering pain signals from entering your spinal cord, and also helps to decrease muscle spasm.


If you have rheumatoid arthritis that is causing you severe back pain, consider a consultation with one of the trained physical therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation. Our physical therapists in Boston, Weymouth, Plymouth, and Braintree are trained to provide you with some much-needed relief in the comfort of our state-of-the-art clinics. We can help customize a treatment plan that specifically addresses your symptoms, allowing you to maintain your quality of life.