Prevent Joint Damage From Rheumatoid Arthritis

When your rheumatoid arthritis flares up, it's important to prevent damage to your joints. Watch for signs of trouble and learn the steps to stay healthy.

Signs of Joint Damage

If you have swelling and stiffness every day, you're more likely to have damage than someone who has these symptoms less often.

You can get damage even if you don't feel pain, but swelling in your joint is a reliable sign. So is a feeling of tenderness when you press on it.

Also, pay attention to how long your joints feel stiff in the morning. Ask yourself when you get up, "How long does it take until I'm feeling as loose as I'll feel for the day?" The longer you feel stiff, the more likely it is that your RA is active.

Another sign you can look for is something called a "boggy" joint. When your joint lining starts to have problems, it may give your joint a mushy texture. This may continue even when you don't have a flare. See your rheumatologist if you notice this happening.

Habits That Help

Because treatment for rheumatoid arthritis has improved over the years, many experts believe that most people who now have it will get less joint damage than ever before. Take these steps to improve your odds of avoiding long-term trouble.

Get treated early. Much of the damage that eventually becomes serious starts soon after you learn you have RA. The earlier you start treatment, the less your chances of problems.

See your doctor often. You'll have less damage if you see your rheumatologist several times a year.

Exercise. It makes your joints stronger. Your doctor or physical therapist will help you make a plan that's safe and fits your fitness level.

Rest when you need to. You need to find a balance between downtime and exercise. Make sure you don't overdo it when you work out.

Use a cane in the hand opposite a painful hip or knee. It curbs wear-and-tear on your joints.

If you smoke, quit. Talk to you doctor to get advice on how to end your tobacco habit.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on December 15, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Harris, E., Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, 7th edition, W.B. Saunders, 2005.

Klippel, J. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 12th edition, Arthritis Foundation, 2001.

van Leeuwen, M., Journal of Rheumatology, 1994.

Ward M., Archives of Internal Medicine, 1993.

Wolfe F., Journal of Rheumatology, 1991.

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