Occupational therapy does not serve any functional benefits for individuals in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), suggest the results of a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (January 2004). A goal of occupational therapy for RA is to help patients maintain hand function. Although this type of therapy has been shown to be helpful in people who have had RA for 8 to 10 years, it is uncertain whether this type of intervention is beneficial to patients in the early stages.
Even with the uncertainty, there has been action toward giving occupational therapy and education to patients with early RA, the report said. To investigate the effectiveness of such a strategy, the researchers studied 300 participants who had been diagnosed with RA for <2.5 years. The participants were randomly assigned to receive conventional treatment with or without occupational therapy. On average, the participants in the occupational therapy group received >7 hours of such therapy.
At the end of the 2-year study, participants in the occupational therapy group were more apt to "selfmanage" their disease. The researchers, however, did not see any significant differences between the groups in terms of health status. They suggest several explanations, such as that the medications used to treat RA may have "erased" any of the positive benefits of occupational therapy early in the RA process.