Championing physio for inflammatory arthritis

World Physiotherapy Day is on 8 September. This year it focuses on physiotherapy for inflammatory arthritis 

Lindsay Bearne is professor of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, St George’s, University of London
Lindsay Bearne is professor of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, St George’s, University of London

Inflammatory arthritis

The term inflammatory arthritis describes a group of autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and axial spondylarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is the commonest of these conditions and it affects about one per cent of the UK population – that’s over 400,000 people. Inflammatory arthritis is typically characterised by pain, fatigue, joint and tendon inflammation, and early morning stiffness. Living with inflammatory arthritis can reduce quality of life, affect a person’s psychological wellbeing, ability to work or take part in social or leisure activities. 

Arthritis resources

To mark World Physiotherapy Day, the rheumatology clinical interest group has contributed to information sheets to increase awareness of arthritis. Subjects include rheumatoid arthritis, axial spondylarthritis and the role of exercise.

Prompt diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment are paramount to slow the progression of inflammatory arthritis, minimise joint damage and disability and improve quality of life.

Alongside effective drug treatments, clinical guidelines recommend a multidisciplinary team approach and emphasises the vital role of physiotherapists1-3. Physiotherapists offer a holistic management approach that includes recognising undiagnosed inflammatory arthritis and proving specialist care such as regular assessment, advice about pain management, tailored physical activity and exercise, supported self-management and much more. 

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the UK  population

Unfortunately, there are national variations in provision of services for people with inflammatory arthritis, leading to inequity of access4-6. To address this issue, exciting opportunities are being created to strengthen the role of physiotherapists and expand the use of advanced practitioners to help meet service demands7. The Rheumatology Physiotherapy Capabilities Framework lays out the physiotherapy capabilities for screening, assessment and specialist management of inflammatory conditions and provides information to support role development and service specification, delivery and commissioning to improve access to treatment.

As we celebrate World Physiotherapy Day, it is vital to recognise the important contributions of physiotherapists in supporting and helping people with inflammatory arthritis. Let us seize the opportunities to increase and expand our roles in this field.

1 National Institute of Health and Care Excellence. Spondyloarthritis in over 16s: diagnosis and management [NG65]. 2017
2Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance. Standards of Care for children and young people with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. 2010.
3National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Rheumatoid arthritis in adults: management.NG100. 2018
4Jenkins N, Jhundoo N, Rainbow P, Sheehan KJ, Bearne LM. Inequity in exercise-based interventions for adults with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology Advances in Practice. 2023;24(1)(7)doi:10.1093/rap/rkac095.
5 Ndosi M, Ferguson R, Backhouse MR, et al. National variation in the composition of rheumatology multidisciplinary teams: a cross-sectional study. Rheumatology International. 2017;37(9):1453–1459. 6 Gregory WJ, Burchett S, McCrum C. National survey of the current clinical practices of the UK rheumatology physiotherapists. Musculoskeletal Care. 2020;doi:10.1002/msc.1516.
7 British Society for Rheumatology. The People We Need: Our Plan To Grow  the Rheumatology Workforce and Enable Excellent Care 2023.

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