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RA treatment in the 1920s

In the early days of the twentieth century very little was known about rheumatoid arthritis.  It might have been called chronic infectious arthritis, proliferative arthritis or atrophic arthritis. Rheumatology was not a specialty. There were no rheumatologists. It was not a good time to have RA.

Arthritis treatment at the Mayo Clinic  included bed rest. Patients were admitted to the hospital and put on bed rest for several weeks. They were given a balanced diet.

Physical therapy was an important therapy. It improved range of motion, strengthened muscles and prevented deformities. Heat and massage were used  to improve circulation and to remove toxins. Bracing and casting were used to support joints and reduce contractions. Canes were prescribed. Shoe corrections were prescribed.

Vaccine therapy, fever therapy and sympathectomy were popular treatments at the Mayo Clinic based on the theories of the time. As medical knowledge grew these therapies fell out of favor.

Salicylates were drugs of choice. Remember this was before sulfa, penicillin and cortisone. It a was long time before ibuprofen would be formulated. Any drug that was made could be bought without prescription. Drug potions and untested remedies were plentiful. There was no drug testing, drug control or FDA. The world was a different place.

The twenty-first century opened with new hope for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Methotrexate is the gold standard for care. And if not tolerated there is leflumomide. There is a pantry full of biologics that affect different parts of the inflammation process including Enbrel and Orencia. The process of RA is being slowed. We are grateful for that.

We can still be grateful for the old basics of a balanced diet, physical therapy, massage, heat, canes and shoe corrections. They are still an important part of the RA patient’s tool chest.








  1. I have been blessed to work at Mayo for 30 years (recently retired) and to have the excellent RA medical care through them. RA and other autoimmune diseases are still a mystery–and sometimes I feel like an experiment when going from one drug to another. I would still like to be treated as a person–and it’s hard to find a rheumatologist to do so–even at Mayo. I’m glad that we have so many things in our toolbox and that we can commiserate with other patients who share their experiences. Thanks for sharing yours.


  2. I agree. I The medical community speaks with an authority that means little. The new drugs are not wonder drugs. It is scary how well they are embraced by the docs. Like grasping at straws. In spite of the wonder drugs my RA is getting worse. It scares me.
    My doc was fine until I asserted myself and then I was quickly shot down. She was not accustomed to a patient being well read. She said so.
    I loved the book Anti Cancer A New Way Of Life written by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD. In it he talks about becoming a patient. Even as a doctor his experience was the same as ours. He says “…I discovered overnight a world that looked familiar but in fact I knew little about—the world of the patient…A world in which nobody was interested in what you did in life or what might be going through your mind. Often the only interesting thing about you was your latest scan.”


  3. Pingback: How they treated rheumatoid arthritis in the 1920’s – Health and Educational Tips

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