Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition that causes inflammation in the joints, affecting the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles. The pain of rheumatoid arthritis can cause deformity or immobility in these locations in the body. While there is no cure, the disease can be managed through a rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan.
Medications come with Side Effects
After you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will likely prescribe medications to help manage the pain. The type and amount of medication will vary depending on the severity of your condition.
Here are some common medications, what they do and their side effects:
- NSAIDs: NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation in the body. There are also over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). There are also stronger NSAIDs that your doctor can prescribe. Potential negative side effects of NSAIDs include: ringing in your ears, stomach irritation, heart problems and liver and kidney damage.
- Steroids: Corticosteroids (prednisone) are prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain, and also to slow joint damage. Long-term use of steroids can come with many negative side effects, including thinning of bones, weight gain and diabetes.
- DMARDs: DMARDs, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can actually slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, and prevent permanent damage in joints and other tissues. Commonly prescribed DMARDs include methotrexate (Trexall, Otrexup, Rasuvo), leflunomide (Arava), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine). Side effects vary from person to person, but can include liver damage, bone marrow suppression and serious lung infections.
- Biologic agents: Biologic agents are a newer form of DMARDs that target the parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation and cause damage to joints and tissue. The following are common biologic agents: abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), certolizumab (Cimzia), etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi), infliximab (Remicade), rituximab (Rituxan), tocilizumab (Actemra) and tofacitinib (Xeljanz). Biologic agents are usually the most effective when paired with a nonbiologic DMARD, such as methotrexate. Negative side effects of biologic agents include an increased risk of infections.
Physical Therapy Can Help
Physical therapy can help you get stronger and move better, potentially even reducing pain. You will need a referral to get started with physical therapy. Ask your rheumatologist for a recommendation or visit apta.org to find a licensed physical therapist in your area.
To have a successful experience with physical therapy, set goals before you get started. Think about what you want to do, whether it’s walking around the block with your kids, picking up groceries or exercising, paint a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve. Tell your physical therapist about it, who can help you target specific areas to reach your goals.
Your physical therapist will also help you to safely push your limits. It’s important to push yourself, but you also need to listen to your body. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and overdoing it – your therapist will help you to understand the difference between the two.
Surgery Might be an Option
Surgery might be a good form of rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and is used to relieve severe pain and improve severely damaged joints that won’t respond to medicine or physical therapy. The following are common surgeries for people with rheumatoid arthritis:
- Total or partial joint replacement
- Removal of debris or inflamed tissue from a joint
- Carpal tunnel release
- Cervical spine fusion
- Finger and hand surgeries
- Foot surgery
Your Mental Health is Just as Important
Any condition that causes chronic pain can lead to mental health issues. Often, chronic pain and feelings of depression and anxiety go hand in hand. In fact, around 30 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis develop depression within five years of their diagnosis.
It is important to intervene and treat mental illness early, because feelings of helplessness and sadness might cause people with rheumatoid arthritis to allow their condition to worsen, rather than working to try to improve it. Getting help immediately rather than letting depression spiral out of control is important.
Alternative Medicine May Help
While medication and exercise remain at the top of the list for rheumatoid arthritis treatment, there are alternative remedies that you can work into your life as well. Here are a few things to try:
- Fish oil: Fish oil can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Try taking 4 grams per day.
- Hot & cold treatments: Alternate hot and cold packs for around 20 minutes, which can offer pain relief.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an alternative Eastern healing technique that involves inserting thin needles into specific points in the body. Some people have reported relief from rheumatoid arthritis symptoms from acupuncture.
- Massage: If your body doesn’t feel to sensitive, massage can actually feel great. Listen to your body, and if it sounds like it might help, try it.
If you or a loved one suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, you’re not alone. Joining a support group can serve as an important part of your treatment plan. Click here to join the Pain Resource online support group for free.