What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition when your immune system malfunctions and attacks your joints, causing joint inflammation, pain and stiffness. Other parts of your body such as your eyes, nerves, heart and blood vessels can also be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis often affects smaller joints such as the wrist and fingers, leading to progressive deformities in the hand if the condition is not well managed.

In a healthy person, the immune system fights invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. With an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakes the body’s cells for foreign invaders and releases inflammatory chemicals that attack those cells. It attacks the synovium, the tissue lining around a joint that produces a fluid to help the joint move smoothly. The inflamed synovium gets thicker and makes the joint area swollen, painful and tender, causing difficulty in moving the joint.

How do I know if I have rheumatoid arthritis?

In the early stages, people with rheumatoid arthritis may not see redness or swelling in the joints, but they may experience tenderness and pain. Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Joint pain, tenderness, swelling or stiffness that lasts for 6 weeks or longer.
  • Morning joint stiffness that lasts for 30 minutes or longer.
  • More than one joint is affected.
  • Small joints (wrists, certain joints in the hands and feet) are typically affected first.
  • The same joints on both sides of the body are affected.

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis get very tired and some may develop a low-grade fever. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may come and go. Having a lot of inflammation and other symptoms is called a flare, which can last for days or months. 

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Your specialist Doctor will obtain your health history and perform a physical examination to check for signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Your Doctor may order blood tests to look for inflammation and blood proteins (antibodies) that are linked to rheumatoid arthritis, and may also order radiological investigations (e.g. X-rays, ultrasound scans, MRI scans) to check for joint erosions.

How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. There is no cure, but healthy lifestyle habits and treatments can help manage your symptoms and keep you active.

Hand Therapy

Your specialist Doctor may refer you to our Hand Therapist, who will be able to provide the following services:

  • Advice and education pertaining to your condition
  • Wax therapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Advice on joint protection strategies, activity pacing, as well as lifestyle and activity modifications so as to eliminate or minimise daily activities or movements which may further aggravate your joints
  • If necessary, provide a customised splint to be worn over the affected joint/s when you are using your hands to perform daily activities so as to provide support and reduce strain on the joint/s
  • Soft tissue mobilisation and release
  • Appropriate and gentle exercises to improve joint and muscle movements
  • Pain relief/management
  • Personalised home exercise program

Non-surgical Treatment

Your Doctor may suggest other non-surgical interventions such as medications to help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, as well as prevent joint and organ damage.

Surgical Treatment

If non-surgical treatment fails to prevent or slow down joint damage, your specialist Doctor may recommend surgery to repair damaged joints, reduce pain and improve joint function.