My first experience with numbness related to my life with rheumatoid arthritis occurred after my double knee replacement surgeries when I was a teenager. While the incision healed, I was left with a lot of numbness in both knees. It lasted so long that I wasn’t sure I would get feeling back. But very gradually the nerves repaired and I recovered sensation around my knees.
Unfortunately, when I recovered from my left knee revision a few years ago the numbness stayed. While I have full feeling in my right knee, in my left I have what I think of as dead zones around my knee. It is mostly superficial to the skin because, sadly, when I bump my knee I feel the pain inside! The downside of skin numbness is that I can’t detect those pesky cabinets and end up banging my knee good!
When post-surgical numbness lingers longer than usual
Post-surgical numbness is common, but people usually recover sensation with time. In the case of my left knee revision I think the lingering numb effect is due to the difficulty of the joint replacement following an infection in the knee. It seems logical that the invasiveness of the infection and multiple surgeries resulted in more than usual nerve damage.
Over the years I’ve also developed a gradual case of peripheral neuropathy (or numbness or pain in the extremities) in my feet. It’s a common co-occurring condition for people with RA. To be honest, I’m not sure when it actually began for me, but I noticed the sensation significantly exacerbated after my hip and knee replacements as a teenager.
While I was recovering from the series of joint replacement surgeries (and then scar tissue removal in my knees, totaling six surgeries in the span of a year and a half) I had painful pins in my feet. They were so sensitive that even the rubbing of a sheet on my feet would cause pain.
From neuropathy to numbness
Gradually the neuropathy in my feet calmed into mostly numbness. However, sometimes when I bump my feet just right it causes a nerve pain that is stronger than my usual pain experience.
All told I seem to have developed nerve damage in a few places, either directly related to my RA or as a consequence of resulting surgeries. While there’s no treatment or cure, it’s sensations that I’ve learned to live with and doesn’t trouble me much.
I try to baby my feet and take care of them. It’s important to keep them warm, especially in winter, so that I don’t get too numb and lose my footing while walking.
For my left knee, I have to look out for it with my eyes since my skin can’t sense to warn me when I’m getting too close to bumping into furniture. Usually, it isn’t a problem, but sometimes I surprise myself with a good whack in the knee!
It’s funny because before I had nerve damage I thought a little numbness would feel great. I didn’t imagine it would feel the way it actually does—like a tingling, a pain, or an emptiness. Instead, I thought numbness might be a relief from my joint pains if only I could quiet a couple of them. But the reality did not match my hopes. In my experience, numbness is more related to pain than pain relief.
It’s like the novocaine where the pinch of the injection can sometimes be more painful than the actual procedure. Sure, it’s not always the case but numbness is not a cure-all for pain relief. I now prefer the feeling, even if it means pain because then I feel the reality of my condition.
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