RA Could Damage Joints Permanently

Over time, inflammation can cause serious damage to joints. RA’s inflammation may break down the internal components of the joint, including the synovium, the slippery fluid that lines and lubricates the joints and helps the joint move and function normally. As joints erode, you’ll experience increasing pain and stiffness.

If not treated early with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), RA-affected joints could become deformed, making them difficult or impossible to use. For example, if rheumatoid arthritis inflammation damages the finger joints, your fingers might become twisted and gnarled, making opening a jar or buttoning a shirt impossible. If RA affects your hips, bending over to pick up the newspaper might be too painful to do. Sitting at your desk typing could cause stiffness and fatigue.

RA inflammation can cause joints to lose their range of motion, or the normal distance that you move a joint in various directions to perform normal tasks – anything from gripping your car steering wheel to climbing a set of stairs. You feel much less flexible, making it harder to walk, bend, grasp, lift or reach up. In time, you might avoid physical activities as much as possible, becoming sedentary. Doing so would eventually reduce your muscle strength, making daily activities even harder. As a result of the inactivity, you’d likely gain weight.

New inflammation-fighting drugs can help reduce symptoms, but it’s important for anyone with RA to engage in regular physical activity. Your daily routine with RA should include joint-friendly cardiovascular activity to rev the heart, such as walking, as well as range-of-motion exercises to keep joints flexible and restore function. Strengthening exercises can also keep muscles fit to help support RA-affected joints like knees or hips, and make affected joints easier to use for gripping, bending, walking and other motions.

A Better Long-Term Outlook
For People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

For years, people with RA not only experienced debilitating pain, stiffness and swelling and overall fatigue, they commonly developed joint deformity. Doctors also noticed that the life span of people with RA was shorter than those without the disease.

In the late 1990s, a new category of DMARDs called biologic response modifiers (biologics) was approved to treat RA. These medications suppress the immune system’s production of inflammation-causing agents. With these new drugs on the market, as well as a more thorough understanding of how the disease works and how to address its effects, the long-term outlook for people with RA is much better. 

You can and should change certain aspects of your daily routine to improve your life with RA and control your symptoms. Each day, you should incorporate range-of-motion and other exercises to keep your body healthy and joints flexible. Adopt a healthful, balanced diet lower in fat and higher in fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Comply with your doctor’s instructions on taking your medications properly. Make enough time for rest to avoid overusing tender joints and to recharge your body. Modify activities when necessary to avoid joint injuries, such as using assistive devices for tasks like opening cans or gardening. If you smoke, you should stop or seek help to do so.

Today, people with RA can lead active, fulfilling lives, staying at their jobs, raising their families, participating in hobbies and activities, and enjoying intimate relationships with their partners. RA symptoms can be controlled with help from your doctor, and a daily commitment from you.