Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Living Anatomy Lesson

Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Living Anatomy Lesson

Joint (noun): the place where two or more bones are connected.

It’s a simple definition that even my five-year-old can understand. Joints are where our bodies bend and move. Joints are where mommy hurts sometimes. And when you think about joint pain, it’s pretty easy to picture the obvious offenders. Knees. Fingers. Wrists. Toes. If you concentrate a little harder, you might come up with a few more. Ankles. Elbows. Shoulders. Hips. But it’s living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that has taught me more about joints than I ever thought I’d learn!

When I was diagnosed with RA, I learned that it could basically affect any joint in my body – but I mostly worried about difficulty walking or opening jars; trouble brushing my teeth or climbing stairs. But one morning, about six months after being diagnosed, I woke with what felt like a ridiculous headache. At the time, I was trying to study for my law school exams, but I just couldn’t concentrate because my whole face hurt.

I was trying to focus on the source of the pain, so I could figure out how to move past it, when I realized the pain was coming from my jaw. Did I…chew something too hard? Had I been clenching my teeth in my sleep? Why on earth would my jaw suddenly start hurting? And then it hit me: my jaw is a joint. RA affects joints. I wondered what other joints could be hiding in my body that I knew nothing about.

I learned about a few more unusual joints by reading articles from my fellow RheumatoidArthritis.net contributors. Tamara taught me about the sacroiliac joint (or SI joint), which is the joint between the sacrum and the ilium bones of the pelvis. Pain in her SI joint and hip caused Tamara to contemplate the impact of limping at her new job. It was Wren who taught me about the cricoarytenoid joint (CAJ), which is located near the vocal chords. She discovered it after realizing that her voice had suddenly gotten more scratchy and raspy than usual. Wren also taught me about the ossicular joints, which surprisingly are located in your ears. An RA flare in the ossicular joints can actually cause hearing loss.

But it was my own body that taught me about the costosternal joint. I had been having a sharp pain in my chest, just under my bra line. At the time, I had a cold and a pretty severe cough. I asked the doctor about the pain in my chest and he told me I had likely strained something by coughing too violently. He gave me some antibiotics and said the pain would improve – but instead the pain persisted, got worst, and spread. I began to worry that maybe I had some kind of infection in my lungs or something.

After a particularly painful day – where the pain in my chest got so bad I was having trouble functioning and taking care of my kids – my husband finally insisted we go to urgent care. That particular visit was a very bad experience, and despite telling all the medical staff I interacted with that I had RA, no one was able determine the cause of my chest pain. It wasn’t until I saw my rheumatologist a few days later that I learned about costochondritis: inflammation of the cososternal joint, which can happen as a result of RA.

I do appreciate the interesting knowledge I now have about the unusual joints in the human body. (I bet I’ll be a blast at parties from now on haha!) But you know what? Next time I think I’d rather take an anatomy class!

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.

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • LynnS
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much for this article! Even though it’s been at least 3 Years since my diagnosis I still manage to convince myself I don’t really have it. Then along comes an article like this and another mystery is solved. I have noticed changes in my hearing that seemed to come and go, but of course, never associated it with RA. Sure enough, I’m experiencing a flare-up right now and my hearing is not only noticeably worse, but the ear pain experienced during a recent flight landing was much worse than anything I had previously had.

  • steph0415
    2 years ago

    6 weeks ago I decided to stop methotrexate after taking it for 3 years. I know my body needs it because if I have to stop taking it due to illness I always think to myself …. maybe I really don’t have RA , maybe I don’t need to take methotrexate. Then body always reminds me ! I do receive monthly infusions of actemra which helps so much. I know I need the actemra for my future , but I just need a break from the nausea , diarrhea, head ache , and awful fog brain ! My rhumeotologist fully suppprts my decision. Perscribed something else and fully suppprts me getting my medical marijuana card and using CBD oil. I have been approved for my card and should have it in 4-6 weeks. I did get a hemp form of CBD oil to give me some relief until the card comes. Here’s my newest complaint tho. I can tell from the pain in my body of the flair ups , but I have had a terrible headache for over a week. I take 2 aleeve and it curbs it but thenit comes back at full force. It seems to hit me in my left ear , then my entire head. Wondering is this an RA thing ? Do I bring it up to anyone or just push thru like I do every day and wait it out ?

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Steph. First, let me say that any new symptoms should be brought to the attention of your doctor. Headaches can be related to RA or a comorbid condition. As this article from one of our contributors points out, headaches are generally an inflammatory condition and thus RA can probably contribute to them: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/ra-can-be-a-real-headache-literally/. Please keep us posted on how you are doing. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • kohrimbo
    2 years ago

    Thank you! After finding out I had Severe RA at age 57 while I was waiting to start my meds. I had inflammation and joint pains all over. The RA was basically out of control. On a business trip I was rushed to the hospital with what they diagnosed as Bipolar Vistibular Vertigo. Several weeks later, I saw a local neurologist who stated my symptoms were not common to BPV. He diagnosed that the RA and the level of inflammation I had most likely cause my 0ssicular joint to be inflamed causing all sorts of equilibrium problems.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for writing kohrimbo. As a joint, the ossicular can certainly be affected by RA. One of our contributors writes about it in relation to hearing problems in this article: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/eh-whats-that-say/. Being that the ears also have an impact on equilibrium, it seems logical that the RA could be the source of your problem. Sounds like (no pun intended) your doctor did a good job. Wishing you the best. Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Dave
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the post! Before my diagnosis I experienced severe pain in my sternum that my Dr. associated with a gastric issue that I had been diagnosed with. Sometimes it was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. That went on for an extended period of time, at times worse than others but at it’s worst it was excruciating. I had no idea what was going on but since my diagnosis and starting my RA meds it has disappeared. Thanks for the insight! Dave

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Dave, Glad to hear that you are feeling better and that your sternum pain is under control with your treatment. Thank you for sharing and being part of our community. Kelly, Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team Member

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Who knew? All I can say is that I am glad I do now.

  • LisaAlex
    2 years ago

    Thank you for your post. Believe it or not, I have suffered from three of these in just the last 9 months since diagnosis. It took my own research, putting it together, to make the connection to the RA, not my doctors. This post will help future sufferers.

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    2 years ago

    Thank you for sharing LisaAlex. Sorry to hear that you’ve had 3 so recently but glad that this article was helpful to you. Good for you for researching and advocating for yourself. We appreciate you being part of our community. Kelly, Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team Member

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