Anything that stiffens, restricts, and damages your joints has the potential to ruin your mobility and independence. Often these are outside forces, like injuries or years of wear and tear. With rheumatoid arthritis, however, your body fights against itself. This less common but often quite serious arthritis disease needs intense treatments to avoid serious deformities and pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the lining in your joints. For unknown reasons, your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial lining that helps lubricate your joints and allows for smooth movement. Inflammation and swelling damage the lining and cause pain and stiffness, making it harder for you to move.
Typically, the disease has periods of flare-ups and then remission, when your symptoms subside and discomfort improves. With each flare-up, however, the disease progresses. Over time, the inflammation can spread from the lining to other tissues, including the smooth cartilage caps that protect your bones from wear and tear, and even the bone tissue itself. This severely damages the joints, making them unstable, stiff, and even deformed. This can restrict how much the affected joints are able to move, decrease your mobility, and make wearing shoes—much less standing and walking—very painful for you.
Like other kinds of joint deterioration, rheumatoid arthritis involves joint inflammation and pain, making it difficult to use your lower limbs. Affected joints may appear red and swollen, especially during a flare-up. Stiffness often feels worse in the morning or after long periods without movement. Unlike other forms of arthritis, though, the condition usually affects the body on both sides at the same time. Symptoms begin in small joints, like your toes, then progress up the limbs to your ankles, knees, and joints in other areas.
More than that, however, rheumatoid arthritis can have unusual symptoms that you might not recognize as being connected to the disease. You may develop a low-grade fever, lose your appetite, and experience fatigue. As the disease progresses, the on-going inflammation and repeat flare-ups can have a negative effect on non-joint tissues as well. Dry eyes, shortness of breath, damaged blood vessels, anemia, and a dry mouth are all potential symptoms. Damaged blood vessels could contribute to nerve and organ issues. You might also develop nodules under your skin in bony areas.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, there isn’t a way to cure it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to treat it, however. Taking care of this condition is extremely important for alleviating pain, protecting your joints from damage, and preserving your range of motion and mobility. Once the disease has been accurately diagnosed, our specialists will begin aggressive treatments to relieve your discomfort and slow the progression of the condition.
This will most likely involve some form of medication which might mean anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce inflammation damage in your body, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to slow the disease, or some combination of those. Therapy will also be an important part of your joint care. Physical or occupational therapy will help maintain mobility and range of motion. Changes to your diet or losing weight may help with inflammation issues and pressure on your lower limbs. You might need to change your shoes to help cushion your feet better. Orthotics can provide support and accommodate joint changes as well. In severe cases, you might need surgery.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition you don’t want to ignore. The sooner you have it diagnosed and begin treatment, the more likely you can prevent the disease from taking over your joints. Preserve your mobility and independence while alleviating pain now, instead of waiting until you struggle to walk to get help. Our specialists at Gulf South Foot & Ankle, LLC, will help you take care of your lower limbs so you can still do the things you love.