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Aches and Aches

Aches and Aches

There are aches, and then there are pains. The frequency of both have proliferated in my life since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As a young athlete in extreme sports, aches and pains were endured with a feeling of satisfaction in the pursuit of my goals, and scars from injury were the equivalent of a badge of honor. This was the 90’s when No Fear T-Shirts gloated slogans of risk taking, grunge and punk music defined a generation of angst driven teenagers, “freestyle” individualism began to overtake organized sports teams, and the culture now marketed worldwide by RedBull and GoPro found its footing.

The omnipresent RA pain

Excellence in high-risk sport required pushing one’s limits and injuries were part of the game. Not so with RA. I try to bear the stinging pain of swollen feet with dignity, but the pain is neither a badge of honor nor price of success. It simply is.

Muscle aches during the first ski days of the season when the body is not adapted to the demands but the mind is filled with adrenaline induced determination and joy, were expected and commonplace. Likewise, soreness from overtraining, pushing too hard, or beginning a weight-raining program in the off-season of the bike-racing calendar was customary. In athletics, certain time periods of aches or muscle soreness are predictable and even planned for. But aches with RA are an entirely different phenomenon.

When achy, sore muscles are not due to a new activity but an everpresent phenomenon

Achy muscles, a feeling of malaise, and the occasional waking up to a sore but not swollen or painful body, seem to occur with an almost randomness, not precipitated by discernible events. This is categorically different than the pain I experience during flares when visible swelling accompanies the stiffness in the joints of my hands, wrists, feet and shoulders. That type of pain is acute and abrupt. In contrast, the aches appear slowly and stay a while, uninvited guests, to the party.

Due to a vague soreness in my legs and lower back, I have been walking slowly this week. “Perhaps it is the increase in hours of exercise this last month,” I thought. “Or the increased stress of the Holidays.” No, I am nearly certain that the muscle aches are related to RA or treatment. They have been coming and going since my first symptoms. The difference in body feel pre and post diagnosis is substantial.

Aches and soreness: Early symptoms of RA

A two-year prospective study of 66 RA patients in Sweden states that “Impairment of the joint and muscle function is often observed at an early stage. The effect on muscle strength occurs during the early phases of disease. The dynamic muscle strength of the lower extremities was reduced to 46% compared with healthy subjects in one study of patients with early RA. An impaired muscle function might be explained by pain, reflex inhibition, muscle atrophy, limited joint motion, myopathy, medication and psychological factors.”1 RA can affect range of motion, muscle strength, and dynamic movement. That the muscles ache seems a part of this.

According to our 2013 RA in America survey at rheumatoidarthritis.net, both back pain and general weakness were in the top ten most common symptoms. “Inflammation of the connective tissue occurs commonly in people with RA. Nearly half of those who participated reported general weakness as one of their most frequent RA symptoms,” and “Over half included back pain as one of the symptoms of RA that they experience most frequently.”2

If you are experiencing vague aches in muscles and soft tissue, you are not alone. It is a commonality shared by many with this pernicious disease that is far more vicious than the word arthritis denotes.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Hörnberg, Kristina, Britta Lindström, and Solbritt Rantapää-Dahlqvist. "Body Function In Patients With Early Rheumatoid Arthritis. A 2-Year Prospective Study." Advances In Physiotherapy 9.3 (2007): 144-150. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.
  2. 10 Common RA Symptoms - Page 9 of 11. RheumatoidArthritis.net. https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/blog/top-10-most-common-ra-symptoms/9/. Published March 24, 2015. Accessed January 6, 2017.

Comments

  • Snorro42
    8 months ago

    Finnally someone I can relate to. Skiing and cycling are a way of life for me. Now with extra challenges. The achyness in your wrists on a long ride. The eazyness of getting tendonitis. Worrying about overusing and inflaming my ankles, knees, hips, sciatica. Neck strain from being in the drops too long. Stiffness and not having the flexibility I used to have when in the middle of an endo, leading to a crash much worse than it could have been. Worring about breaking another bone on the next crash due to osteopenia from steroids, for me ribs, rotator cuff, ankle, metatarsal. Muscle soreness, that’s nothing. I went from racing cat 2 to barely being able to hang on in group rides. There is eating humble pie on every ride. I wish Strava would have an RA category for its leaderboards ‍♂️

    With all this that we go through, I still can’t quit. I tried to improve my RA through convalescing. Didn’t work. Just slowly went down hill. Finnally decided it’s now or never and got back on the bike. I was able to recapture some of who I was. I will never be the same as I was before (that is not easy to accept even after living with RA for 20 years) but I am no longer in a freefall.

  • Bets
    8 months ago

    It is very reassuring to know that I am not the only one who experiences these symptoms…

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    3 years ago

    Heck, I thought it was just me. Really, pre rheumatoid arthritis I would try to push through. Post RA, I can hardly tell the difference. I am glad I am not alone.

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