Rheumatoid Arthritis and You: What RA Can Do to Your Body
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Hands and Feet
Because RA often strikes the small joints of the hands and feet, people can experience a number of painful conditions that can hamper movement. If not controlled by RA drugs, the inflammation in the hand joints can lead to things like locking joints; ulnar drift (weakening of tendons and ligaments that cause fingers to curve toward the pinkie); swan neck deformities (distortions of the joints causing unusual bending and straightening); and even ruptured tendons. All these can make writing, holding objects, and unscrewing lids difficult. You might also get muscle cramping, which can be relieved by gentle movements and warm compresses. The swelling of RA may put pressure on the median nerve (which runs from the wrist to the fingers), causing numbness or carpal tunnel syndrome. Wrist and finger splints can help keep joints steady while you're sleeping (uncontrolled movement can increase joint damage).
The bones of the feet may also become affected in RA, and if inflammation is not controlled by medication, it can lead to painful conditions like hammertoes (abnormal bending of the toes); bunion (a bony nodule outside of the big toe); pes planus (loosening of the arch joint in the middle of the foot); and valgus hind foot (loosening of the joint below the ankle, which causes the foot to bend forward). Shoe inserts can help support the arch and ankle.
In addition to treating you with RA drugs, your rheumatologist may refer you to an occupational or physical therapist so you can learn ways of moving that are less painful and that strengthen muscles, says Rebecca Manno, MD, a rheumatologist and an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Decreased movement can cause muscles to atrophy and can reduce a person’s cardiovascular fitness, so it's important to address anything that hampers moving.
Video: 11 Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis on the Body
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