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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Back Pain – Understanding and Managing the Condition

Posted on January 12, 2012 by pmruser

When most of us hear the word “arthritis,” what we’re really picturing isn’t rheumatoid arthritis, but rather “osteoarthritis,” the most common form of the condition. The differences between the two forms vary drastically. Rheumatoid arthritis can be a crippling disease, and if you think you may be suffering from it, you should seek out a medical professional for treatment options right away.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Osteoarthritis
Affects 0.6% of people in the United States Affects 8% of people in the United States
Severe type Mild type
Women 3x more likely to be affected than men Men and women affected equally
Caused by immune system attacking your joints Caused by general wear and tear of living life
Onset generally between ages 20-60 Onset generally after age 40
Pain felt all over the body Pain felt in localized area of the affects joint(s)

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the body’s flexible (Synovial) joints by inflaming and swelling the soft tissue (synovium) that surrounds these joints. In particular, two of these flexible joints related to your back and its dealings are:

  • the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint
  • the cervical spine –  the part located directly below your skull and above your ribcage

Smaller joints, like those in the cervical spine, are most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis, but larger joints, like the shoulder, can also be affected, although this is less common.

Why Back Pain?

When the soft tissue becomes inflamed and swells, the joint becomes less flexible, leading to stiffness and varying degrees of discomfort. If the joints of the shoulder and cervical spine are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, back pain will probably be a likely occurrence. However, the pain caused by RA can be felt throughout your body, not just in the area of the affected joints. This means you may have back pain without having a swollen or inflamed joint associated with that part of your body.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)Treatment Options

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, through some treatments the destruction of the joints can be slowed, and the pain can be managed. These include, but are not limited to:

  • DMARDs (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) – used to slow the disease by reducing the rate of bone and cartilage deterioration
    • DMARDs are the only type of drug that will slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis
    • Prescribed, brand name drugs include: Plaquenil and Arava
    • NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) – used to lessen symptoms of RA, such as inflammation of the joints, but do not slow the progress of joint damage
      • Ibuprofen and Aspirin are over-the-counter NSAIDs
      • Prescribed, brand name drugs include: Naprosyn and Naprelan
      • Painkillers – used to ease the pain caused by RA, but these do little else to help treat and manage the condition
        • Tylenol and general acetaminophen are over-the-counter pain relievers
        • Prescribed, brand name drugs include: Codeine and Vicodin
        • Cortisone Therapy – useful for suppressing inflammation of the joints in the short term, but research suggests it’s less effective over the long term
        • Physical Therapy – maintaining the flexibility and strength of your joints with regular exercise is important to living well with rheumatoid arthritis and will likely also ease the frequency and intensity of back pain
        • Surgery – sometimes surgery may be performed to slow the progress of the disease (before cartilage damage) or replace affected joints

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)Final Notes

If you believe you may have rheumatoid arthritis, please seek treatment from a qualified, medical professional. By following their advice and direction you may be able to greatly decrease both the destructive progress of the disease and the severity of the pain, including any back pain caused by RA or otherwise. Only a medical professional can provide you with a correct diagnosis and course of treatment.  Please seek help for rheumatoid arthritis. There’s no need to suffer with the pain and swelling when treatments are widely available.