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Joint Stiffness and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Joint Stiffness: Risk Factor for Early Joint Damage

How quickly joint damage occurs with rheumatoid arthritis varies from person to person and depends on many factors such as inflammation or certain antibodies that can be measured with tests. The more risk factors you have, the more important it is to get early treatment.

Tracking Symptoms of Joint Stiffness and Pain

Before you see your doctor, make a list of your symptoms and describe when they occur. Do they occur after a particular activity or first thing in the morning? Note when joint stiffness and other symptoms first began, whether they came on suddenly or have recurred, and whether they've changed in intensity over time or moved to new joints.

Physical Exams: Checking for Joint Stiffness

See a doctor to assess joint stiffness, pain, or swelling that lasts more than two weeks. Your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor trained in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of joints, muscles, and bones.

Bring information about your joint symptoms and note whether you have any that are unrelated to your joints, such as fatigue or weight loss. Pain is often a partner to joint stiffness. Do your best to describe it. You may think of joint stiffness as a type of vague muscle ache. That's partly because symptoms may be subtle at first. 

The doctor will assess your joint's mobility. You may be asked to move the joint to check its active range of motion. If the doctor moves the joint to examine its mobility, this is called passive range of motion. Your doctor will also check your joint for swelling, enlargement, and tenderness.

A variety of tests can help your doctor evaluate your joints and check for signs of systemic disease.

Treating Joint Stiffness

Pay attention to early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint stiffness. Early, aggressive treatment can greatly limit joint damage. Your doctor will help you develop a plan for treatment, which may include medications and several types of therapy. 

Medications. A variety of medications are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. When given early enough, some interrupt the progression of the disease by reducing inflammation and preventing joint damage. Others help relieve symptoms of joint stiffness and pain. 

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