There are many reasons why #RAWarriors might consider the use of splints or orthotics as part of their treatment plan again rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Splints—or orthoses—make daily activities more manageable as well as prevent damage to a part of the body (particularly appendages). Rheumatoid arthritis not only causes pain and inflammation in the joints, it also damages the joints. Providing joints—(especially the ones that are frequently affected by flares like those in the hands)—extra support is certainly a topic to discuss with you RA treatment team.
What Do Orthoses Treat
Splints or orthoses are tools to help with daily life and/or treat the physiological effects of RA—swelling, pain, and deformity. The most common types of splints #RAWarriors use are resting hand splints, wrist supports, finger splints, and special shoes as well as shoe inserts.
Orhtoses for the Feet
Special shoes or sole inserts that provide support mainly in the arch can be crucial for foot health in #RAWarriors. These types of orthoses are designed to disperse the weight of the body throughout the foot, so the ankle avoids dropping into the arch. When this occurs and the heel pushes outward unnaturally, it is known as valgus heel.
Another foot condition for #RAWarriors is called hammertoes or claw toes. This is when the toes are permanently bent under typically at the base joint. There are actually quite a few options to treat this condition including discreet toe separators, boot-like devices, and inserts for shoes.
#RAWarriors that are experiencing severe foot health problems should consider adding a podiatrist to their team. (For more information about RA foot symptoms click here.)
Orthoses for the Wrists
The wrists and hands do so much activity throughout the day. And, they are often the part of the body that is most affected by inflammation. Wrist and hand issues are quite common as a result of occupational injuries.
There are two types of splints for the hands and wrists—(they are for the majority of the time treated together)—to help treat and prevent damage:
1. Resting splints
Resting splints support the joints while the body is inactive and purportedly ease pain and inflammation. They also help prevent deformity. Resting splints can be for both the wrist/hand or for just for fingers.
Typically these devices are made from a molded thermoplastic material and have Velcro fastening straps to achieve an optimal fit. Physiotherapists, occupational therapists or orthotists can custom-make them as well to treat very specific problems.
2. Working Splints
Working splints support the wrist and hand joints during the use of hands. They are designed to help #RAWarriors carry out daily tasks with decreased or minimal pain.
Working with an orthotist or physiotherapist is very important when deciding to add a working splint to a treatment program. A professional will tailor the splint to keep the joint in an efficient position when doing a job and may help to make the wrist and hand feel stronger.
Some #RAWarriors and other users report working splints making the hand or wrist less flexible during use, which can also be a cause for concern regarding the maintenance of range of motion. Sometimes, that is due to poor quality or inflexible material. Good working splints are generally made of an elastic or light synthetic rubber-type fabric with Velcro straps.
Which Orthoses Are the Most Effective
A study in 2002 reported that the use of working wrist splints significantly decreased grip strength and did not alleviate pain or morning stiffness after up to 6 months of regular use. In another study in 2008, researchers found that the use of a resting splint reduced pain while improving grip and pinch strength. Individuals—not just #RAWarriors—who have wrist problems (e.g.; carpal tunnel) report the benefits of using working splints.
Working splints can be quite expensive. If cost is a prohibiting factor, check to see if disability insurance or Medicaid are options. Orthoses are usually prescribed to patients like medicine and may be charged to insurance as durable medical equipment.
Regarding foot orthoses, the same study in 2002 found that extra-depth shoes and molded insoles decreased the pain during activities like standing, walking, and stair-climbing.