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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!

Post-surgical numbness

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.

Sensitivity in my feet

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.

Have I developed nerve damage?

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.

How I manage neuropathy

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!

The reality of nerve damage and numbness

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.

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


  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi Kelly, I just came across your article on numbness/neuropathy. You have been through so much in your life. I truly admire your courage and determination. You’re probably thinking that you really don’t have any other choice but you do, you could have surrendered to RA but that word doesn’t seem to exist in your vocabulary. I’m sure there are times you’ve considered it, who wouldn’t but it’s fleeting. You are an inspiration to me and I’d bet to many others as well.

    I too have numbness/neuropathy in my feet, hands and fingers and that odd heavy hollow feeling in my left knee due to replacement surgery. I’ve also had numerous surgeries on my hands and fingers and as you do chalk the tingling and numbness up to nerve damage. It is such a weird feeling but you describe it so well.

    As you pointed out, the numbness does not stop the pain signals from coming through loud and clear. Right now the fingers on my left hand are mostly numb but they hurt like heck too making typing a bit difficult since I can’t feel the keyboard very well under my fingertips. We could crawl up into a ball and hide under the covers (which I’ve been known to do) but ya gotta come out some time, right?

    I’m rambling now but I did want you to know that your article was very helpful to me and I always appreciate your honesty and transparency. I hope too that you get a permanent respite from surgery and some much needed relief. You did hit the husband jackpot with Richard though. Having such a supportive and understanding partner makes all the difference. Take care and I look forward to your next article.


  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thanks so much, Cynthia. Sending you gentle hugs. Glad sharing my experience was helpful to you. 🙂 Nerve pain is certainly a challenge and I wish I knew some good tricks for it. Just saw an article exploring how there are many different kinds of pain. Too bad we RA folks are so familiar with that! Guess we could have written that one! Take good care. Best, Kelly ( Team)

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