Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes painful swelling and stiffness in the joints, especially the hands, feet and knees. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Symptoms include joint pain and swelling, fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million U.S. adults, and is more prevalent in women. It is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. Without treatment, rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent joint damage and disability. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to slow or halt the progression of the disease and preserve joint function.

Treatmenting Rheumatoid Arthritis

Treating rheumatoid arthritis involves a comprehensive approach aimed at managing symptoms, preventing joint damage, and improving overall quality of life. All treatments for rheumatoid arthritis must be done in conjunction with a rheumatologist. The overall emphasis is on addressing the underlying autoimmune processes and inflammation causing discomfort. 


Non-Surgical Treatments


Medications, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Biologics, another class of medications, target specific components of the immune system involved in the inflammatory process. Medical therapy under the guidance of a rheumatologist is the main component of the disease process.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can improve joint mobility and strengthen muscles to better support joints. Therapists may use specialized hand exercises, wax treatments, and splints. 


Surgical Treatments


A synovectomy is an outpatient procedure that removes the inflamed synovial lining of a joint to reduce pain and swelling. In addition to reducing inflammation and pain, this procedure may potentially slow down joint damage in cases where conservative treatments have not worked. 

Tendon Transfer or Repair Surgery

Tendon transfer or repair surgery is considered in cases of rheumatoid arthritis where joint deformities and dysfunction have significantly impacted hand function. In these procedures, tendons are repaired or repositioned from their original attachment to improve grip strength, stabilize joints, and correct deformities caused by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Joint Fusion

Joint fusion, also known as arthrodesis, is a surgical procedure commonly employed in the management of advanced arthritis or joint damage. In this procedure, the affected joint surfaces are permanently fused together, eliminating movement in that joint. Joint fusion is often considered when other conservative treatments have proven ineffective, and the pain and dysfunction are severe. 

Joint Replacement Surgery

Joint replacement surgery involves removing the damaged joint surfaces and replacing them with prosthetic components made of metal, plastic, or ceramic materials to restore function and reduce pain.The surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia and may involve open surgery or minimally invasive techniques depending on the specific joint and severity of the arthritis.

Complex Hand Reconstruction

Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to severe joint deformities, tendon damage, and soft tissue changes. In advanced cases, complex hand reconstruction may be recommended involving a combination of specialized reconstructive procedures, such as joint replacement, tendon transfers, synovectomy, and correction of deformities to restore both the structural and functional aspects of the hand.

Why Patients Trust the Center for Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery

Our state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology, and team of fellowship-trained, board-certified hand and upper extremity surgeons deliver comprehensive care for the treatment of arthritis in upper extremity joints. In addition to the latest minimally invasive treatment options, choosing a healthcare provider with their own surgical center streamlines care, convenience, and safety to ensure that every patient receives the highest standard and continuity of care.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you experience persistent joint pain, swelling, and stiffness—especially in multiple joints like the hands, wrists, and knees—it is important to see a doctor. Early rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and treatment is key to preventing permanent joint damage. Notify your doctor right away if your symptoms came on suddenly, are affecting your ability to complete daily activities, or are accompanied by unexplained fever, fatigue, or weight loss. Even if symptoms come and go, worsening joint pain and swelling warrants medical evaluation to determine if rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune condition is developing. Don't delay seeking attention, as starting treatment quickly can dramatically improve outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that set off the body's immune system to mistakenly attack the joints.

Is rheumatoid arthritis hereditary?

While genetics may play a role, having a family member with rheumatoid arthritis does not mean you will necessarily develop it. However, you may have a slightly higher risk.

Is rheumatoid arthritis curable?

Currently there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, with early treatment and lifestyle changes, remission can be achieved in some people, reducing symptoms and joint damage.

What foods should I avoid with rheumatoid arthritis?

Avoiding inflammatory foods like added sugars, saturated fats, processed meals, alcohol and salt may help reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Focus on a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods.

Can rheumatoid arthritis affect organs outside my joints?

Yes, rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that can impact other organs like the eyes, lungs, heart, and skin. This is why managing RA is so important.

Will I need joint replacement surgery?

While possible down the road, most patients respond well to medication treatments and do not require surgery. Your doctor will determine if and when surgery may be necessary.

What assistive devices can help manage rheumatoid arthritis?

Splints, canes, walkers, shoe orthotics, jar openers, and reachers can take pressure off affected joints and accommodate any disability. An occupational therapist can advise on assistive devices.

HUES Surgeons

Don’t let joint pain slow you down. We can help.