What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that affects joints by means of inflammation, bone erosion, and joint deformity in the hands along with other associated body systems. RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder that attacks tissue in the joints and is not from general wear-and-tear in comparison to Osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Typically early signs of RA begin in the hand in the smaller joints such as fingers and spreads to other regions such as the wrist, elbow and shoulders. General signs of RA are as follows and vary greatly in severity:
- Inflamed joints that are warm and tender to touch
- Joint deformity and malalignment
- Joint stiffness with noted increased stiffness with decreased general use (mornings and inactivity)
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no known cause of RA however genetics are linked to the likelihood of the autoimmune disorder. Risk factors may include:
- Sex (women more likely)
- Age (middle age most common age diagnosed)
Conservative Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Conservative treatments include staying active, medication such as NSAIDs and RA specific medication proscribed by your physician, wearing splints specific for the affected area, and RICE method (rest, ice, compress, elevate) when RA is inflamed.
Your hand therapist will provide specific exercises depending on your severity and area needing to be addressed. Additionally, adaptations to everyday items and rooms may be suggested by your OT to assist with independence with completion of your day-to-day tasks.
What Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Surgery Look Like?
Cortisol injections may be beneficial should more conservative methods prove unsuccessful prior to surgery. Surgery can include but is not limited to removal of inflamed lining of the joint, tendon repair, joint fusing, and joint replacement.
Avoiding risk factors such as smoking is important to decrease your chances of developing RA in your hands. Staying active, observing for any changes to the sensation and/or structure of your hands and fingers, and knowing when to discuss any concerns with you physician can assist in the treatment of RA as early detection may assist with improved functional status. Do not over use the affected extremity and allow time to rest based on the guidelines from your therapist.
A little bit about Amy Eckert, our visiting OT student…