Strengthening Your Body and Fighting Lupus with Physical Therapy

Woman with lupus sitting quietly.

Strengthening Your Body and Fighting Lupus with Physical Therapy

Do your symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, fever, hair loss, sensitivity to sunlight, or a butterfly rash across the bridge of your nose and out into your cheeks? You may be experiencing symptoms related to lupus.

Diagnosing lupus early is important to help prevent complications, manage symptoms, and improve outcomes. It’s also challenging because the disease can cause a wide range of symptoms that may be similar to other conditions.

If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus, our physical therapy plans can help.

Symptoms of Lupus Flares

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary, depending on which parts of the body they impact.

One of the most distinctive symptoms of lupus is the butterfly rash, which appears on the cheeks and bridge of the nose and resembles the shape of a butterfly. However, not all lupus patients experience this rash, and some may have other skin rashes or no skin involvement at all.

Lupus is also known for its “flares,” which are periods of increased symptoms, followed by periods of remission where symptoms may lessen or disappear.

Diagnosing Lupus

There is no single test that can definitively diagnose lupus, so healthcare providers typically rely on a combination of factors to make a diagnosis, such as your medical history, physical exam, blood tests, and tissue biopsy.

To receive a diagnosis of lupus, an individual must meet certain criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology, which include having a combination of specific symptoms and laboratory findings.

Causes of Lupus

The exact cause of lupus is still not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. Studies have shown that certain genes can increase a person’s susceptibility to developing lupus, although not everyone with these genes develop the disease.

In lupus, the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues, leading to inflammation and damage in various organs and systems. This abnormal immune response is thought to be driven by complex factors, including abnormal signaling pathways in immune cells, the production of auto-antibodies that target the body’s own tissues, and the release of inflammatory cytokines that further fuel the immune response.

Lupus Disproportionately Impacts Women

Lupus can affect people of any age, gender, or ethnicity, but it is more commonly diagnosed in women of childbearing age (15-44 years old), particularly those of African American, Hispanic/Latina, and Asian descent. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 90% of individuals with lupus are women. Men and children also develop lupus, but at lower rates.

In terms of risk factors, having a family history of lupus or other autoimmune diseases may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. Additionally, certain environmental factors such as exposure to ultraviolet light, certain medications (such as hydralazine or procainamide), and infections may increase the risk of developing lupus. It is important to note, however, that having these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop lupus, and many people with lupus do not have any known risk factors.

Physical Therapy for Lupus

Physical therapy can be an important part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with lupus. Since lupus can affect multiple systems and cause a range of symptoms, physical therapy can help to address specific symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Our physical therapy interventions for lupus may include exercises to improve joint range of motion, strengthen muscles, and improve cardiovascular fitness. Med1Care physical therapists may also use modalities such as heat or cold therapy, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

Our therapists may also provide education on joint protection techniques and strategies for energy conservation to help with symptom management and prevent flares.

Exercises for Lupus

Some common goals of physical therapy for lupus include improving joint flexibility and mobility, reducing pain and stiffness, and increasing strength and endurance.

Physical therapy exercise examples for Lupus:

Range-of-motion exercises: These exercises help to improve joint flexibility and mobility, which can be particularly important to reduce joint stiffness and pain. Range-of-motion exercises may include gentle stretches or movements of the affected joints, such as shoulder circles or knee bends.

Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises can help to improve muscle strength and endurance, which can be beneficial if you experience fatigue and weakness. Examples of strengthening exercises may include resistance band exercises, such as bicep curls or leg presses, or body weight exercises such as squats or lunges.

Low-impact cardiovascular exercise: Cardiovascular exercise can help to improve overall fitness and endurance, but high-impact activities such as running or jumping may be too strenuous. Low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, or swimming can be a good option, as they provide cardiovascular benefits without putting too much stress on the joints.

Med1Care physical therapists can help to design a safe and effective cardiovascular exercise program based on your needs and abilities.

Managing Lupus

Currently, there is no cure for lupus. However, with proper management and treatment, many people lead full and active lives. The goal of treatment for lupus is to manage symptoms, prevent flares, and minimize the risk of complications. Treatment may involve a combination of medications, lifestyle modifications, and other therapies such as counseling or physical therapy.

Medications used to treat lupus may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate pain and inflammation, anti-malarials to reduce skin rashes and prevent flares, and immuno-suppressive drugs to suppress the overactive immune response. Corti-costeroids may also be used to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms during flares, but long-term use can have side effects and is generally reserved for more severe cases.

In addition to medications, lifestyle modifications such as stress reduction, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can also help to manage symptoms and improve overall health.

Get Started with Med1Care Physical Therapy

At Med1Care Therapy Partners, we are committed to helping you find relief. We regularly treat lupus using exercises, stretching techniques, manual therapy, and other interventions. With our expertise in physical rehabilitation, combined with an understanding of your unique needs, we can help you manage your symptoms.

We’ll partner with your healthcare team and rheumatologist to help you build a unique treatment plan to improve your movement and function with specialized exercises and education on low impact ways to manage daily living, relieve pain, and reduce flares.

Call us at 419.866.0555 to schedule a free consultation.
Our specialists will help you chart a course forward.

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