Although pain is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), not every ache and pain you experience will be related to RA. Since pain from different causes may respond better to different types of treatment, it is important to try to determine if your pain is most likely RA-related or due to some other reason.
The following list contains various clues your healthcare providers will use to determine whether your pain is related to RA or other causes. Here are a few things to think about:
- Quality and character: Pain can range from mild to severe, and can be sharp, dull, achy, burning, etc. Some of these feelings are more likely to be related to RA than others
- Stiff muscles: With RA, muscle stiffness and pain can occur either at rest, after some activity, or after extended periods of activity. This can be another clue for your health care provider, so take note of when these symptoms seem to be more prevalent
- Presence or absence of inflammation: Inflammation is characterized by pain, swelling, warmth, and redness. If you have inflammation, it is more than likely related to your RA
- Deformities: Joints and bones can become deformed for various health reasons. This can be seen either during the physical exam or with x-rays
- A reason behind the pain: Some pain will have obvious causes, while other pain will not. Take note of any recent slips, falls, accidents, or lifting injuries
- Location, location, location: RA often affects different joints and areas of the body than osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis
- X-ray findings: RA has very specific appearances on an X-ray and is different than other issues that may affect the bones and joints
If you are having pain, don't just chalk it up to RA. It may be due to RA. It may not. Determining the underlying cause is important so that the correct treatment may be applied. If you have any of these aches and pains, whether they are related to RA or not, discuss it with your doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose RA and let you know if you could benefit from treatment and other pain relief methods.