Hip > Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

About one percent of the American population suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a painful joint disease that is likely a result of the body’s immune system attacking the body’s tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis causes degeneration in the cartilage, ligaments, and tendons that are responsible for the smooth movement of joints. As these tissues wear down, bones may start rubbing on bones. Unlike osteoarthritis, which can be caused by sports injuries or repeated stress, rheumatoid arthritis can be frustrating for athletes because it appears to strike without reason. Rheumatoid arthritis may spread through the body, commonly affecting the knees, shoulders, hips, fingers, toes, wrists, elbows, and jaw. It can cause debilitating pain that makes activity difficult.


Though the exact causes of rheumatoid arthritis are unknown, it is likely related to genetic factors. Though it usually occurs later in life, rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages.


No simple prevention tactic will help everyone avoid increased arthritic pain:

   “No pain, no gain” does not apply. Avoid anything that makes pain last for more than an hour or two

   Perform controlled range-of-motion activities that do not overload the joint

   Avoid heavy impact activities

   Gently strengthen the joint

Maintaining aerobic fitness has been an effective method for preventing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Avoiding high-impact or repetitive stress sports, like football and distance running, which can cause severe joint injuries. Maintaining fitness through non-contact activities is important for keeping joints and bones healthy over time. Workouts in a warm pool are especially easy on sore joints. Exercise also helps promote weight loss, which can take stress off arthritic joints. Arthur R. Bartolozzi, M.D., is a team physician for the Philadelphia Eagles and Flyers and a member of Professional Team Physicians.

Treatment [top]

Fortunately, advances in sports medicine in the late 90’s allow athletes to address rheumatoid arthritis at any stage of the disease and protect their joints so they can remain active. Aggressive treatment before joints become damaged is the most important step for athletes. The initial symptoms can be treated with rest, ice, light exercise, and medication. Anti-inflammatory medication is often strong enough to decrease the inflammation, but if symptoms worsen, doctors can prescribe disease modifying, anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which interfere with the immune system’s ability to break down body tissues. However, DMARDs have many side effects, including possible liver damage. As the disease progresses, joints can undergo an arthroscopic evaluation. The primary purpose of this procedure is to remove a significant amount of the joint lining tissue called synovium, which is responsible for making the fluid that eventually digests cartilage. Depending on the amount of cartilage damage, athletes may respond well to this treatment. Rheumatoid arthritis can be a very destructive process that severely and sometimes quickly damages joints in very active people and it can frequently lead to joint replacement. Though these procedures sound complicated, many athletes usually return to some type of activity after arthroscopic surgery.


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