As a Reflexologist, clients come to me with a variety of health issues, the latest being rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This prompted me to learn more about this condition, as well as the difference between RA and osteoarthritis (OA).
Simply stated, OA is caused by continued wear and tear on the joints, while RA is an autoimmune disorder that produces inflammatory joint symptoms. Both diseases are chronic, meaning they are long-term. Neither disease has a known cure. OA is degenerative, meaning it will continue to worsen with time, but with appropriate treatment, OA can generally have a positive prognosis. RA is much more unpredictable.
I found this quick comparison of RA/OA at rheumatiodarthritis.org:
Joint pain, stiffness, swelling affecting multiple joints
Symmetrical symptoms affecting both sides of the body
Morning stiffness lasting longer than 30 minutes
Additional symptoms like fatigue, fever, and malaise
Joint pain and stiffness usually affecting hands, fingers or knees
Joints on one side affected worse than on the other side
Morning stiffness lasting fewer than 30 minutes
Possible spine and hip pain as well
Though there is no cure for either type of arthritis, the objective treatment is the same: decrease pain, manage symptoms, and prevent further destruction to the joints.The role that reflexology can play into addressing RA and OA is to help manage the pain, symptoms, and the secondary conditions caused by chronic pain.
Research studies show that reflexology has an impact on pain in a variety of situations. Twenty-seven studies show positive outcomes for reflexology work ranging from “reduction in” pain to “significant difference” pain. (Evidence-Based Reflexology Research for Health Professionals & Researchers by Barbara & Kevin Kunz)
Reflexology also improves circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells, as well as removes toxins that cause the inflammation which contributes to arthritic symptoms.
Living with pain can cause secondary conditions such as stress and anxiety, which can lead to poor sleep and depression. Reflexology is proven to create relaxation. When the body is relaxed, muscles are relaxed, blood flow is improved, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rates are lowered, and oxygen saturation level is increased. While in this state, the body systems are able to come into better balance. The immune system, which plays a role in RA, is thus encouraged to respond normally.
While reflexology does not claim to “cure" or "treat” OA or RA, when received on a regular basis, it can be a tool for the toolbox in managing the pain, symptoms, and secondary conditions that are associated with arthritis.