Rheumatoid Arthritis – also known as RA – is an inflammatory auto-immune disease that affects the joints of the body. The most commonly affected joints include the peripheral joints: the fingers, hands and wrists.
Around 84% of all people experience lower back pain at some point in their life. For the vast majority, the back pain is non-specific meaning that it is not possible to accredit or blame any specific structural or pathological cause. In very few instances however, specific pathological conditions and joint disorders can be the main cause of back pain, for example RA, which can also affect the spine and be a major contributor to a person’s back pain.
If you have been diagnosed with RA in the peripheral joints (e.g. hands and fingers), getting back however doesn't necessarily indicate that your RA has spread. As with all other people who get back pain, there can be several reasons for its onset. It may just be because you have suddenly increased your activity or your back has become sensitive because a threshold has been crossed. Remember pain is multidimensional and can be affected by both physical, psychological and social stressors. In other words, back pain might not necessarily mean that your RA is getting worse. (You can read more about load threshold here).
Getting back pain when you have RA, or getting diagnosed with RA that affects the spine doesn't have to mean that you have to be disabled by the back pain. You have plenty of options to live an active life and manage the pain. You may even find that your pain subsides or goes away on its own in time.
One of the most important strategies to overcome back pain for everyone, with or without RA, is to be active within tolerable levels, modifying – but not stopping – your activity wherever necessary.
And whilst activity might not be the first thing you feel like doing with stiff or painful joints, movement and exercise can help to decrease your pain. And what’s more, it can also help to increase bone health, improve muscle strength, mental health and your overall health too. (See more in this blog).
So, it’s important to keep those activity levels up – even if you don’t particularly want to. The support of a skilled healthcare provider (e.g. a physiotherapist) can really help. Check out what we do here at Reach on our website.
- Kothe (2007); Impact of low back pain on functional limitations, depressed mood and quality of life in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Traeger (2017); Diagnosis and management of low-back pain in primary care
- Balaque: Lancet clinical review: “non-specific low back pain”
- Hartvigsen (2019); What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention