Rheumatoid arthritis may occur in two forms, juvenile and adult onset varieties. In more than half of the cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), the disease disappears with adulthood. Additionally, the blood test used to diagnose JRA is negative in a majority of the cases. Despite these facts, JRA can cause bone malformation and/or destruction, the results of which may be permanent. Adult onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the classic lifelong condition known to many. RA can be managed through constant attention, but it cannot be cured. RA is a connective tissue disease belonging to a group of illnesses called autoimmune diseases. In short, a person with RA is allergic to himself. The condition affects every tissue of the body, including its major organs. Typically, this disease is manifested by inflammation of the joints of the body, including the joints of the spine and extremities, and causes significant pain and even deformity if left untreated. Rheumatoid arthritis typically requires treatment for the rest of an individual’s life, though physical therapy, medication and exercise may slow or delay joint degeneration.
Definition and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of all inflammation are redness, pain, swelling, increased temperature and loss of function. These signs and symptoms are caused by an influx of white blood cells. Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly first seen as inflammation in the synovial joints of the hands, feet and cervical spine (neck). In RA, the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membrane lining these joints. RA causes inflammation and destruction of synovial lining. When healthy, these membranes produce synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant for joints. This lubricant production is reduced in people with RA and may result in pain and deformity. Patients experiencing swelling or painful joints should consult a physician for diagnosis and treatment.
While there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, a number of treatments have proven effective in slowing joint degeneration, such as:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS); the newer COX-2 inhibitors are NSAIDS that tend to cause less gastrointestinal symptoms
- Steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as a steroid dose pack
- Specific immunosuppressant and/or anti-neoplastic medications
- Physical therapy and stretching classes to increase strength and flexibility
- Deep tissue massages
- Surgical adjustment in severe cases
If you experience continued neck or back pain, it is always a good idea to visit your physician to determine the cause of your discomfort. In most instances, pain can be managed with a steady course of conservative treatment. In the event that you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, speak with your physician and a rheumatologist to determine the best course of action to mitigate the symptoms of this condition.