Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) damages the lining and cartilage of the joints. This leads to painful swelling, a common symptom of the disorder. RA can cause permanent damage, so early treatment is important.
Keep reading to learn what causes swelling and what you can do about it.
RA occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. Fluid then builds up in and around the joints. This causes painful swelling, which may lead to permanent joint damage.
RA usually affects both sides of the body equally. Inflammation also can happen throughout the body and not just in the joints.
People with RA may experience a number of symptoms, such as:
- low-grade fever
- eye problems
- weight loss
- pain or aching in joints
- stiffness in more than one joint
- inflammation, dryness, and pain in the mouth and gums
- rheumatoid nodules
- inflammation and scarring in the lungs
- lower than normal red blood cell count
- blood vessel inflammation that can lead to damage of internal organs, skin, and nerves
- heart inflammation that may damage the heart muscle
Medication can help ease the pain and stiffness of RA. These medications include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics
Physical or occupational therapy can also help improve movement. Splints can also help support the joints.
An RA flare-up is when a person is experiencing a lot of inflammation and associated symptoms. A flare-up can last for a few days or months.
Strategies for joint protection can help prevent joint swelling and pain. Using bigger joints over smaller groups is one such strategy. For example, you should avoid lifting heavy objects.
Instead, opt for sliding them across work surfaces when possible. This will help keep the delicate arm and finger joints injury-free. Whole body movements should also be used wherever possible. Specially designed gadgets can also help you manage tasks like cooking and cleaning.
Several lifestyle changes can help ease your symptoms:
- If you smoke, make a plan to quit. Smoking weakens bones and organs. Quitting smoking can help keep your bones strong and improve mobility. If you want to quit, your doctor can help you create a cessation plan.
- Practice good posture. Having good back and foot support is important when sitting. Finding a chair that’s higher than average also can make it easier to get on your feet. Avoid stooping to prevent stressing your joints. Make sure the objects you need to use regularly are at countertop level to achieve a good standing posture.
- Eat a balanced diet. A balanced diet that contains ample vitamin D is important. Vitamin D helps maintain good bone health.
- Manage your weight. Being overweight puts extra stress on the joints. Maintaining body weight or reducing it to a moderate level improves movement and can reduce RA symptoms.
Moving swollen joints can be painful. Still, regular exercise can help prevent joint swelling and pain.
Exercise can help you by:
- strengthening the muscles around the joints
- keeping bones strong and joints flexible
- improving overall strength, sleep patterns, and general health
You should always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. Some moderate exercises that your doctor may mention include:
You may find that lifting weights (appropriate weight for your hand and wrist involvement) can be helpful. Weight lifting strengthens bones and muscles. Strong bones can help you fight joint injury.
Stretching can also prevent joint stiffness. Using a stretching program throughout the day can make joints supple and keep a good range of motion.
There are many ways to make the symptoms of RA more manageable. You can reduce the chance of joint damage and disability with medications and joint protection strategies. Taking simple steps like exercising and eating healthy can help you take control of your RA symptoms.
Of course, you should also set aside time to rest throughout the day. During bad RA flare-ups, bed rest can help ease pain and prevent injury.