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Oh Right, I Have Arthritis

On the first day, I thought my cheek was sore. I tried to retrace the activities of the day before. Had one of the kids inadvertently bopped me in the face with a toy, or had I somehow bumped my cheekbone on something? The next day, as the ache intensified, it occurred to me that my nighttime teeth grinding may have ramped up, overpowering the mouth guard I wear while sleeping. I began palpating my cheek to check for soreness, just as my dentist does, and found that yes, the muscles were indeed quite sore. However, it wasn’t until the third day, as the dull ache ramped up to a sharp jab of pain as I bit down on a slice of apple, that it finally dawned on me: It’s my jaw. I pressed my fingers over my jaw joint, and sure enough, this was far more sensitive than the muscle pain in my cheek. And I thought, “Oh, right, I have arthritis.”

That may seem strange coming from a person who has been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis for 14 years, who has tried at least 16 medications for the condition, including pills, injections, and infusions, and who currently self-administers weekly injections of Orencia. Of course I never forget that I have the condition, but I still have these moments due to the pervasive nature of this disease. RA can affect any joint in the human body, and as we have well over 300, that covers a lot of ground (not to mention that RA can also affect organs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments). When one of my “frequent offenders” acts up, such as my hips, wrists, fingers, knees, toes, shoulders or sacroiliac joints, I immediately recognize the pain as RA. However, when the pain rears up in a place that has previously been unaffected, my arthritis isn’t always my prime suspect.

Interestingly, the same thing happens with fatigue, even though I experience it frequently and have experienced it intermittently throughout my adulthood. I am fully aware that fatigue itself is a symptom of RA, yet, when it comes to my fatigue, I often overlook the obvious cause. Most days I assume that my fatigue is solely due to being a working mother of young children, with countless responsibilities to juggle. However, when I ask myself upon pouring a fourth cup of coffee, “Why am I so tired?” the truth sometimes surfaces: I am a busy, working mother of young children who also has RA, a disease which can cause incapacitating fatigue even for those who may get more sleep than I do or who may have to-do lists shorter than mine.

When I take a step back, this series of denials of my RA makes sense. Most therapists agree that denial is the first step of the process of coping with loss, and that the final stage is acceptance. Discovering that I had RA was certainly a loss; my diagnosis was the death of an adulthood I had unconsciously envisioned for myself, one without a chronic health condition. While on the whole I feel that I accepted this loss long ago, when I find myself thinking, “Oh yeah, it must be my arthritis,” I realize that I’m back in denial, and that the process of coping with this loss is never complete, because it’s not a single loss. Rheumatoid Arthritis is so pervasive and encompassing that it causes an ongoing series of mini losses. This jaw pain is its own mini loss: it is the loss of a pain-free joint. Therefore, it makes sense that even though I’ve come so far in dealing with my RA, there will be days when I feel like I’m right back at square one.

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

  • Sharon Fritz
    4 years ago

    I am wondering if when I open my mouth all these little bones sounds like they are all breaking. Is this RA. Are my jaw bones going to break someday?

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Sharon, thanks for your question! Your rheumatologist will be best qualified to determine whether the sounds you are hearing are related to RA. That being said, the snaps, crackles, and pops we often hear are not necessarily the sign of a problem, as this article regarding a recent study explains: http://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/news-on-knuckle-popping/ In addition, if you ever have pain associated with your jaw, you may find this article to be of interest: http://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/jaw-pain-tmd/ Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • cking
    4 years ago

    Sometimes I think it me writing these articles. You take the words right out of my mouth. Thank you so much for sharing your/our thoughts

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for reading and for your comment! I’m so glad to hear my writing resonates with you. It’s challenging to live with this disease, but at least we’re not in this all alone! Thanks for being part of our community, Tamara

  • jaide winn
    5 years ago

    Tamara, thank you for this article. It is very good and eye opening. I, too, started having jaw pain all of the sudden around the first of December. I had no idea what was going on. I also use a night guard for grinding. My right jaw and temple area hurt SO bad. I had a cortisone injection, I went to several doctors, but I couldn’t find the source. Eventually, it was decided it was TMJ from the RA. When I was at one doctor, I said, “oh great another diagnosis”. He said, “no, it isn’t a new diagnosis, it is just the RA, which is what you have been dealing with”. I have thought a lot about that statement, and it has made a big impression on me. I am the type that I want an answer for everything, and I see each pain as a separate issue, not so. Also, you are right about the process of acceptance. I think I am doing good, but then when something new comes up, then I start back through the steps. Also, it seems the winter months causes my “non acceptance” to be much worse. The weather really affects me, and I can’t get out as much, so it is definitely a harder time of the year for me. But, your comments about coping really gave me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I’m so glad to hear you found the article helpful.

  • Tami
    5 years ago

    I was diagnosed with RA 15 years ago and recently the same thing happened. My jaw began to ache and I couldn’t bite down on my left side for 2 days. It was very painful. I never thought about there being a joint in my jaw.

  • Ali
    5 years ago

    I can totally relate. I have had a night guard for grinding my teeth way before I was diagnosed with RA. Pain is never easy. Acceptance for me is even harder.

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