Treatments besides DMARDs for rheumatoid arthritis

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis almost always begins with disease-modifying medication, but it doesn't stop there. Treatment can include pain relief, surgery, and different forms of therapy.

Dealing with pain

Early and rapid administration of disease-modifying antirheumatic medications (DMARDs), such as those that alter immune system function, can have beneficial long-term effects on the course of rheumatoid arthritis. However, in a crisis of rheumatoid arthritis pain, acute management of the immediate problem will improve your comfort while the disease-modifying medications are starting to work. Rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help increase comfort during a crisis. NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are available over the counter and work to suppress the inflammatory response that causes joint pain and swelling. Your health professional may also sometimes recommend corticosteroids, either orally or by injection into the muscle or joint, to help treat a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis.


Surgical intervention has a significant role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The most common role of surgery is to correct the deformities caused by joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis. However, joint replacement can also be performed. Typical areas operated on for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • The neck, to stabilize the portion of the upper spine where it meets the base of the skull.
  • Hands and wrists, to correct deformities and allow improved fine-motor functioning.
  • Hips and knees, usually to perform joint replacement.
  • Ankles and toes, where joint destruction and deformity may occur and diminish your ability to walk.

Seek the care of orthopedic or plastic surgeons or podiatrists who have a particular interest or experience in the surgical treatment of inflammatory arthritis, as outcome can be particularly dependent on the experience of the surgeon.

Physical and occupational therapy

Both physical and occupational therapy may help maintain function in rheumatoid arthritis. Occupational therapists may be especially helpful in teaching people with significant loss of mobility how to use orthotic devices to open jars, use utensils, and perform other activities of daily living. Physical therapists can assist you in maintaining strength and range of motion of joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis and instruct you in an appropriate exercise program.

Last Updated: August 18, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.