Joint pain can have a debilitating effect on a person’s life.
People with rheumatic- and autoimmune disorders commonly experience joint pain, from mild symptoms to severe ongoing pain.
What Are Autoimmune Disorders?
Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s natural defence system, known as the immune system, cannot distinguish between its own cells and foreign particles. This causes the body to mistakenly attack normal cells, resulting in pain and inflammation.
There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disorders, but the conditions that are most likely to cause joint pain include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
There is no cure for most autoimmune conditions, but early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help prevent a condition from deteriorating. Rheumatologists work to improve the lives of people suffering with an autoimmune disease and rheumatic pain.
Who Is At Risk Of Autoimmune Disorders?
Women are more at risk of having an autoimmune disroder than men. The reason for this is not clear, but we do know that there are multiple factors at play.
Oestrogen, one of the primary female reproductive hormones, plays an important role in the regulation of the immune system. Oestrogen fluctuates during a normal menstrual cycle, which may increase a woman’s susceptibility to autoimmune disorders.
A person might also be genetically predisposed to autoimmune disorders. Rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and lupus all tend to run in families.
A person’s environment and behaviours may also play a role in the development of an autoimmune disorder. Certain harmful chemicals and excessive stress may interact with a person’s immune system.
Treatment For Autoimmune-Related Joint Pain
Often, the treatment for joint pain associated with an autoimmune disorder will take into consideration treatment for the disorder itself. The following medical treatments are currently available for joint pain management:
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen are commonly used to help relieve inflammation, pain, and stiffness in people that suffer with joint pain.
NSAIDs are used to treat many painful joint conditions including gout, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis, and polymyalgia rheumatica.
Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF)
Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) blockers may be recommended if NSAIDs are not effective, TNF blockers suppress the immune system by blocking the activity of TNF, a substance in the body that can cause inflammation. Anti-TNF medicines are given by injection. TNF blockers are used to treat ankylosing spondylitis.
Monoclonal antibodies may be prescribed if NSAIDs or anti-TNF medicines are not effective. This type of medicine blocks the effects of a protein involved in triggering inflammation.
Monoclonal Antibodies are used to treat ankylosing spondylitis.
Colchicine is a prescription medication that reduces inflammation and pain if taken within 24 hours of a gout attack.
Corticosteroids are prescription medications that reduce inflammation. They may be prescribed as a pill or injected directly into the affected joint.
Corticosteroids are used to treat many inflammatory conditions including gout, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and polymyalgia rheumatica.
Janus Kinase Inhibitors
Janus Kinase (JAK) Inhibitors work by blocking enzymes (proteins) that the immune system uses to trigger inflammation. JAK inhibitors are used to treat ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used to treat certain types of arthritis. The are not beneficial in treating pain and inflammation in the spine but can reduce pain in other parts of the body. DMARDs are used to treat ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and systemic lupus.
Biological treatments affect the role of certain chemicals in the inflammatory process. They are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Physiotherapy is an important part of joint pain treatment. It can provide several benefits including pain relief, improved strength, and greater flexibility.
Your physiotherapist may recommend range-of-motion and stretching exercises as well as strengthening exercises for your abdominal and back muscles, to help preserve good posture. Practising proper sleeping and walking positions can also help to reduce stiffness and pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that causes very painful symptoms. It is caused by an excess of uric acid in your body which causes sharp crystals to form in your joints (usually your big toe). Symptoms such as pain and swelling come and go in periods called gout attacks or flare-ups.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory disease that, over time, can cause some of the vertebrae in the spine to fuse. Fused bones cause the spine to become less flexible and can result in a hunched posture.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain in several joints.