Arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis

The three most common types of arthritis: osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body but often affects the smaller joints, including hands, wrists, fingers and elbows before any of the larger joints like the hips, knees, shoulders.

Joints are generally affected on both sides of the body. The symptoms are often worse in the morning and improve as the day goes on.

What is it?

Rheumatoid arthritis is much less common than osteoarthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, which means your body’s defences against infection (your immune system) attack your body’s own tissue and Hand-Xray-Arthritic-cnvthis affects the lining of your joints. It is a complex condition that can also cause problems in other parts of your body.

Who can get it?

The condition can develop at any age, though it is most likely to develop between the ages of 25 and 50 years. Rarely, children under the age of 16 can develop a form of rheumatoid arthritis known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or Still’s disease. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs in all ethnic groups, climates and altitudes. In New Zealand it affects about 1-2% of the population. It is three times more common in women than it is in men.

If you or a family member has rheumatoid arthritis, you may find that you have times when the disease flares up and causes problems, followed by periods when it is not active. In some people it burns itself out after several years.

Symptoms

Fatigue can be one of the most difficult symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis for people to manage.
Other symptoms may include:
  • Hands-and-Elbow-3DPain in the joints
  • Swelling (often accompanied by warmth and redness) of the joints
  • Stiffness in the joints (generally worse in the mornings and after periods of rest)
  • Muscle pain
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite (with resulting weight loss)
  • Changes to the skin and nails
  • Anaemia can also occur, often compounding the feeling of fatigue and the feeling of being generally unwell.

Around a quarter of people with rheumatoid arthritis develop small, firm movable lumps under the skin called rheumatoid nodules. These usually appear under the skin around the joints and on the top of the arms and legs.

Treatment

Other than prescribed drugs or surgery ?

Shoulder-Scapular-stretchExercise and rest
A balance should be reached between exercise and rest. When the disease is active more rest may be appropriate. Rest will help reduce fatigue, pain and inflammation. Exercise is important to increase muscle strength, decrease joint deformities and stiffness, and to maintain mobility. An osteopath can recommend an appropriate exercise regime.

Care of joints
Joint protection and work simplification methods can be effective in decreasing joint pain and fatigue. An occupational therapist or osteopath can give advice on these. The use of splints or joint-sparing devices such as zipper pullers or long-handled shoehorns may be suggested.

Explore the Stretch for Life program and find a gentle and rewarding stretching routine that best suits you.

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