Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly seen to affect the knees, hands, and fingers, but it can affect any joint in the body and lead to pain and inflammation. When rheumatoid arthritis affects the hands and knees, the joints become stiffened, swollen, warm and tender to touch, and can even feel misshaped. Sometimes, rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, wherein the normal movement of the hands and arms become severely affected. The patient can also feel numbness in the hands and fingers, coupled with other symptoms like fatigue and weakness.

There is not much evidence to state what actually causes rheumatoid arthritis. However, most of the experts believe that the immune system disorder is triggered by a faulty gene in the body or due to a genetic infection that leads to chronic inflammation. Some researchers also say that hormone balance is a key catalyst of the condition because it is more commonly seen in women than in men. Besides, the risk of rheumatoid arthritis also grows with pregnancy and the conditions might become worse after childbirth.

Generalists may recommend a few blood tests by rheumatoid arthritis specialist in addition to a physical examination in order to receive a proper diagnosis. Usually, diagnostic tests to check for low red blood cell count (anemia), erythrocyte sedimentation rate, antibodies to cyclic citrullinated peptide, level of C-reactive protein, and rheumatoid factors are advised. In some cases, the doctor might also suggest getting an X-ray and/or an MRI scan to check for any joint damage. The healthcare expert might also take a sample of the synovial fluid to diagnose the condition and prepare the right treatment plan accordingly.

Treatment Options

Most doctors in community healthcare centers recommend taking rest and following a healthy exercise routine to ease the symptoms of the condition. In addition, medications like painkillers are also prescribed to deal with the pain and inflammation of the joints. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can also help in managing the pain and reducing the symptoms in the hands and fingers. In some cases, doctors might recommend using a splint or specialized aids to take the pressure off from the painful joints.

Managing stress is also important to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis while avoiding foods that could possibly lead to muscle stiffness and joint pain is advised. At the same time, eating food products that curb inflammation is also recommended. Some doctors also prescribe medications to stop the progress of the immune system disorder as well as to protect the joints from further damages.

Surgery is often recommended as the last resort for rheumatoid arthritis, especially when the disease has progressed to a very serious stage and has already damaged the joints in the knee or hand. Sometimes, a specialized procedure called synovectomy is performed to remove the inflamed lining on the joints of the knee, but it can relieve pain for only a limited time, such as for up to 4 – 5 years. A total knee replacement surgery is recommended when the damage in the joints is irremediable.

Tips to Ease Joint Pain

Regular exercising is the simplest way of easing joint pain caused due to rheumatoid arthritis. Following the recommended exercising routine would make the joints in the hands, fingers, and knees more flexible and release pressure from the inflamed body parts. At the same time, you should also take enough rest to ease the stress and pressure from the joints and lessen the pain. You can ask your occupational therapist to recommend some simple gadgets and devices to help with your day-to-day activities, which would give your painful joints some more relief.

You can also place a warm and moist compress on the affected area, such as a towel dipped in warm water, to ease the pain from the joints. Similarly, you can use ice packs to reduce the swelling from your hands or knees. Experiment what works the best for you, and make it a part of your daily workout routine.

Treating Swan-Neck Deformity

Swan-neck deformity is the condition where the base of your finger and the farthest joint bend, but the middle joint straightens. This misshape and imbalance of the joints in the finger can lead to immense pain if not treated in time, and can even lead to other serious conditions. In some cases, the swan-neck deformity can make it very hard to bend the fingers or make a fist normally. Eventually, it affects your ability to pinch, grasp, or hold things, which stops you from carrying out your daily activities.

It is important to consult with a specialist at the nearest community healthcare center as soon as you notice any symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Severe conditions like swan-neck deformity can be treated with the use of finger splints or ring splints, while surgery would be the only option in case the disorder aggravates an irreparable condition.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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