When your immune system mistakes your own body for the enemy, the consequences can be devastating. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects your joints, attacking the lubricating tissues around your bones that help them move against each other smoothly. RA can severely impact your life, but the good news is that there are many things you can do to fight against the disease and its disabling effects.
Warning Signs of an Attack
There are several things you may notice with this condition. You may wake up with stiffness in your joints, especially in your hands and feet. This may last well into the morning before you begin to loosen up and start to move normally. When you feel the joints, they may be warm, swollen, and tender to the touch.
Sometimes, small bumps called rheumatoid nodules can form under the skin of your arms. Feeling tired, having a fever, and losing weight are also possible symptoms. The condition often has flares—periods where the attack is more severe—and times of remission when the symptoms subside somewhat.
The Elusive Enemy
Researchers don’t know exactly know why your immune system goes on the offensive, but three factors seem to increase your risk: being a woman, being 40 to 60 years old, and having a family history of the disease. RA can begin at any age, however, and affects men as well, so don’t rule it out if you are showing symptoms. Despite running in families, your genes don’t cause the disease. Researchers suspect they merely make you more vulnerable to a virus or bacteria that may trigger it.
Spying Out the Action
You can’t see what is going on inside your joints, but here’s what is going on behind enemy lines. RA triggers your immune system to attack the synovium—the lining at the ends of the bones in your joints. This tissue acts as a lubricant, like oil on gears, to prevent damage. Under attack it becomes inflamed and thickens, which causes extra friction on the bones and stretches the ligaments and tendons of the joint. Eventually, the bone begins to deteriorate and the joint becomes weak and moves out of position. This is when the pain can become quite severe.
Taking Evasive Action
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are many things you can do to slow it down or prevent it from totally disrupting your life. The first is to seek medical help. At the Palmer Foot Clinic we can diagnose the condition when it affects your feet and ankles, and recommend self-care strategies that can help. One of these is getting regular, moderate exercise. The goal is to strengthen the muscles around the joint so they hold it in place. Strong muscles also hold off fatigue. We can help you set up a routine that is safe and beneficial for you, like walking or swimming. Of course, you may have to back off a bit at times when your joints flare up with swelling, inflammation or pain. Soft, accommodative foot orthotics are essential to help maintain your existing foot structure.
We can also show you how to use heat therapy to relax your muscles and cold to reduce swelling and pain. Other treatment methods that may help include reducing tension with deep breathing, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation. These are all done in conjunction with medical care that may include medications to reduce inflammation, suppress immune reactions, and head off damage to the bones and tendons. We will work with your internist to find the exact regimen that manages your symptoms and allows you to enjoy a normal life.
Contact Podiatrist Iain Palmer at the Palmer Foot Clinic in Winnipeg, MB today by calling (204) 697-0649 to set up an appointment. Don’t let rheumatoid arthritis defeat you! Let us help you find answers to your joint pain.