Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that is diagnosed in about 1.5 million people in the US. This chronic condition affects your joints, including the joints of your spine, and can also damage other body systems, such as the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. An autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own bodily tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the lining of your joints can become painfully swollen, causing erosion of the bone and deformed joints. The disease becomes progressively worse over time.
What Are The Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Some people will show obvious physical signs of joint damage and degradation, while others display less discernible symptoms that can imitate other diseases. The most common and obvious symptoms that accompany RA include:
- Joint pain and tenderness
- Swollen joints
- Joint redness and warmth
- Stiff joints
- Range of motion loss
- Deformed joints
Feelings of joint pain and tenderness occur when RA is active. Over time, the discomfort can be felt even when the disease isn’t active, due to past damage from old injuries. If you have RA in the bones of your cervical spine, you may feel tenderness in the vertebrae of your upper spinal cord or in the joint between your C1 and C2 vertebrae.
Inflammation causes joints to swell, reducing your range of motion and flexibility in the affected body part. Swollen joints can also cause skin to become reddened as your capillaries become inflamed. You may even feel that your joint is warm, whether or not discoloration is seen.
When RA is actively causing inflammation, your joints might feel stiff, especially upon waking up. This rigidness can also occur when your immune system is fighting healthy tissue.
Parts of The Body Most Often Associated with RA Symptoms
Although this type of arthritis can affect several bodily areas, the main regions displaying joint inflammation include:
- Hands (especially fingers and knuckles)
- Elbows and Shoulders
- Ankles and Toes
Having pain and sensitivity in your joints for at least six consecutive weeks is one of the early symptoms of RA. Joint stiffness that doesn’t dissipate over time is another early sign, including feeling stiff every morning for at least 30 minutes or more upon awakening. Pain and soreness in multiple joints or in small joints, such as the knuckles or toes, are also indicative of RA. Having symmetrical pain in joints on both sides of your body are included in these early warning symptoms.
Medications prescribed to treat symptoms of RA will depend upon the severity of your pain and the length of time you’ve been diagnosed with the disease. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve discomfort and reduce inflammation. Steroids achieve much of the same results, including the slowing of joint damage, though negative side effects are associated with steroid treatment. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help slow the progression of this disease and ward of permanent joint damage, though, again, the side effects of possible liver damage, bone marrow suppression, and serious lung infections are difficult to ignore.
At the Spine Institute Northwest, alternative treatments for patients with RA include regenerative medicine stem cell therapies to induce healing and renew healthy tissue. Advanced treatments in the field of regenerative medicine for RA sufferers highlight stem cell therapies, especially for those patients who are not achieving optimal health benefits from other treatments, such as medication alone.
Stem cells taken from a patient’s own body can help repair and regenerate damaged tissue that is affiliated with disease and injury. These stem cell regenerative therapies are administered over a period of days to ensure optimal anti-inflammatory responses in the body. As the stem cells work to rebalance your immune system, the treatment also encourages the production of cells that help regulate against attacks from your own immune system. Amnion, umbilical cord blood, and exosomes are used in treatments with cells from a donor. These generally serve as anti-inflammatory therapy for both intra-articular joint injections and IV therapy. After just a few weeks, you can expect to see some improvement in your joint pain and stiffness after stem cell therapy treatment.
Contact the Spine Institute Northwest at (206) 496-0630 to find out whether stem cell therapies can help your RA symptoms.