Treatments for Back Pain Caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA and Back Pain: Why Does It Happen?
For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), back pain is often an uncomfortable reality.
Back pain can result from the body’s immune system attack on the small joints of the spine. In advanced cases, this can even lead to compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. When nerves are compressed, sufferers can experience moderate-to-severe pain.
Click through the slideshow to learn about short-term treatments for back pain, and long-term back pain management steps.
What Kind of Back Pain Are You Experiencing?
Before looking at treatments for your back pain, you’ll need to know if you’re suffering from acute or chronic back pain.
Acute back pain is usually a result of straining the back. It can be treated with medication and usually will get better over time. Exercise isn't recommended.
Chronic back pain is different. It’s a long-term problem caused by conditions like RA. It can be treated in a number of ways, and exercise can be beneficial.
Hot and Cold Treatments
Hot and cold packs can’t treat the underlying causes of back pain, but they can help to reduce the pain and stiffness a sufferer feels during a flare-up.
A heat pack can help to improve blood flow and reduce muscle spasms. It can also help make the pain more manageable.
A cold pack can be particularly helpful to reduce RA inflammation. Cold packs may feel uncomfortable at first, but they can help numb pain.
Using Medication to Ease Chronic Back Pain
Medication can be an effective way of controlling chronic back pain. The type of medication you’ll need depends on the pain you’re experiencing and the frequency of your back pain episodes.
There is also a variety of medications that can alleviate pain and slow the progression of RA.
Using Painkillers to Combat Back Pain
Managing your pain is an important part of learning to live with a chronic back problem. Analgesics, or painkillers, are one way of easing back pain. Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin may be enough to manage mild pain.
Your doctor can prescribe stronger pain relief if you need it. Treatments like oxycodone are often given for moderate-to-severe back pain. Other medications can treat both inflammation and the underlying causes of your chronic back pain.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs can be used to soothe pain and inflammation. Anti-inflammatory treatments are helpful because they reduce swelling. This eases the pressure on the back and helps make movement easier.
Ibuprofen and naproxen are two NSAIDs that are often prescribed. NSAIDs have side effects, such as potential stomach bleeding. Your doctor will be able to help you decide if NSAIDs are right for you based on your medical history.
Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
DMARDs are prescribed to help soothe pain and slow the progression of RA. They can help stop you from developing future pain flare-ups.
DMARDs work by blocking the chemicals that are released when antibodies attack joint tissue. This prevents further damage to bones and cartilage.
A commonly prescribed DMARD is methotrexate. DMARDs also have side effects like sickness and skin rashes. Your doctor can help you manage these side effects if they occur.
A spinal injection can be a quick way to relieve chronic back pain. It usually means injecting a corticosteroid or anesthetic into the nerve region that’s being affected by RA inflammation.
The effects of a spinal injection can last for weeks or even months. Corticosteroids can cause other health problems like weight gain and osteoporosis. For this reason, injections are often spaced out with several months between each injection.
Back Surgery Can Improve Life for Chronic Pain Sufferers
Surgery is usually a last resort for back pain treatment. Still, it can be very effective in helping to ease chronic back pain.
For example, a “fusion” procedure can be used to cut out a diseased joint and bond vertebrae together. In some cases, this largely can get rid of pain in that area.
Realigning and stabilizing the spine to ease pressure on the spine’s nerves is another approach. This can lessen pain and even improve mobility.
Chronic Back Pain Support Treatments
A range of therapies can help support your back pain treatment. For instance, physiotherapy could help improve your flexibility and muscle strength.
Occupational therapy might also be useful. This kind of therapy teaches you joint protection strategies. An example might be how to pick up and carry objects without causing back pain.
Chiropractic therapy is not suitable for RA patients who suffer back pain, according to the University of Washington Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
Self-Care Through Gentle Exercise
Exercise can help take pressure off of the back and keep joints supple in RA sufferers who are experiencing back pain. Exercise also helps maintain overall body health.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends exercises like walking and stretching to help ward off back pain. Activities like tai chi and water-based exercises like swimming or water aerobics also can be helpful.
Always consult a doctor before starting any fitness program for your back pain.
- Handout on health: Back pain. (2013, September). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved December 14, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Back_Pain/#10
- Physical activity and arthritis overview. (2013, October 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/pa_overview.htm
- Rheumatoid arthritis pain: Tips for protecting your joints. (2012, May 4). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthritis/AR00015
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Treatment. (2012, July 25). National Health Service. Retrieved December 14, 2013, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Rheumatoid-arthritis/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- Spinal injections – Are there different types of injection. (2013, June 17). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from http://umm.edu/programs/spine/health/guides/spinal-injections
- Spine arthritis — Spine surgery for rheumatoid arthritis. (2009, December 31). University of Washington Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from http://www.orthop.washington.edu/?q=patient-care/articles/spine/spine-arthritis.html