Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition in which the body’s immune systems mistakenly attack the lining of the joint. Overactive immune systems can cause inflammation, which results in stiffness, pain, swelling, or other symptoms.
Rheumatoidarthritis can begin in the small joints of your feet and hands. The disease can progress to other parts of the body, such as the neck, but it is possible. It is rare for this to occur until many years after the first signs of arthritis symptoms appear.
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How RA affects neck
Chronic inflammation of the neck can lead to the destruction and degeneration of synovial joints. These are the joints that allow for movement. The cervical spine can become unstable if arthritis damages this joint.
The backbone is made up of small bones called vertebrae. There are seven of them, and rheumatoid artifid arthritis usually affects the atlas or axis.
The atlas holds your head weight while the axis allows your neck to move in different directions.
It feels like
The most common symptom of RA is neck pain. Neck pain can vary in severity from one person to the next. A dull, throbbing sensation may be felt in your back around the base or skull. It can be difficult to move your head side to side due to joint swelling or stiffness.
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There is a difference between RA neck discomfort and a neck injury. The stiffness and pain that results from injury can gradually improve over days and weeks. If it is not treated, RA can become more severe. Even if the symptoms improve, stiffness, inflammation, and swelling can return.
The symptoms of RA in the neck are different from those associated with osteoarthritis. RA pain can be caused by inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is due to natural wear and tear.
Headaches and RA
Sometimes, RA can cause headaches in the neck. These headaches are secondary in nature and affect the first and second vertebrae. These vertebrae have spinal nerves on either side. It’s these nerves which supply sensation to the scalp.
These headaches are also known as cervicogenic headaches. These headaches can mimic migraines, cluster headaches, and other types. While some headaches are caused by migraines, which can be felt in the temples, brain or forehead, RA headaches cause pain in the neck. These headaches may be unilateral or can get worse with head or neck movements.
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Other signs and symptoms of RA
The neck RA can cause stiffness, pain, and headaches. You may feel the neck area slightly warm or red.
If your vertebrae press against the nerve roots and spinal cord, you may also experience other symptoms. Compression can decrease blood flow to your neck’s vertebral arteries and may also reduce oxygen transport to your brain. This can cause dizziness or even blackouts.
Also, spinal cord compression can affect balance and walking and cause problems with bladder and bowel control.
Other symptoms can also be caused by RA. You might see:
- Energy deficiency
- Flu-like symptoms
- Appetite loss
- weight loss
- Sleeping problems
- Brain fog
- hard bumps or tissue under your skin
Your doctor can use a physical exam to assess the range of motion of your neck and identify signs of joint instability, inflammation and misalignment.
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Although there is no single test that can diagnose RA, your doctor may order a series. These tests include blood work to check for auto-antibodies and inflammatory markers that can be indicative of RA. An imaging test that takes a picture of your inside, such as an Xray or MRI, can also be done to determine the extent of inflammation and joint damage.