To The Forgotten Joints of RA....
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a confusing disease and most people don’t know much about the illness beyond a half-idea of what they think arthritis is. It usually involves deformed hands and feet, along with some sort of hunched-over gait and for some inexplicable reason butterscotch candy?? Damn you old man Werther’s.
Despite the crazy amount of ignorance, it is true that hands and feet do get affected by arthritis almost always. The thing is, there are 360 joints in the human body and all of them are susceptible to damage and inflammation, so let’s take a trip down the lane of forgotten joints.
Unknown joints impacted by RA
RA is a systemic disease. That means anything is fair game. This includes all the joints in your body that you didn’t even know were joints or even that they existed at all. Until they suddenly start hurting, that is. It’s kind of like train police – you don’t even realize they exist until you get caught drinking on the train. You can’t distract your RA by saying it was the people behind you, though, so you find out your body has joints in places that don’t even make sense. Like a coccyx. Why do we have a joint for a tail that none of us have? Err, well, most of us, that is, I met a girl once….
RA affects the collar bones
One of the most troublesome joints I had was a part of the body that hardly moves but you see it every day. The collar bones. Joints that light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when RA takes hold. During the first ten years of my illness, the collar bones were the barometer for how active my disease was. If I woke up and it looked like I had grown two tiny red breasts right at the bottom of my neck then it was going to be a bad couple of days. The standard RA playbook applied – they’d get hot, they’d hurt and, believe or not, they’d even swell up. I didn’t even realize the collar bones were joints, much less that they could actually become inflamed. Do you know what it’s like to be a ten-year-old boy who looks like he has a tiny elk inside his chest trying to burst forth antlers-first? Well, I do and it’s just about as awkward as you can imagine. Plus, when the collar bones hurt, moving your arms at all also hurts. No idea why it happened, but my illness put them on the “places to visit” list and then liked it so much, it stayed for years.
Jaw joints affected by RA
A crash course in human anatomy
Those nibs of nonconformity were bad, but by no means were they the only time I was given a crash course in what’s a joint and what’s not. Intermittently throughout my thirty-some-odd years of disease, my RA would show up in another wet, hot place that often got me into trouble. No, it’s not the fun part you’re thinking of it’s… my mouth! Yes, did you know that your jaw has a big honkin’ joint right at the back of your face? Well, I do. Now.
An experience with TMJ
When it first happened, the doctors were stymied, as was I. I just assumed it was yet another cavity or impacted molar since my teeth were so bad that even a Brit would call them “dodgy.” Unfortunately, after pulling two teeth and receiving no relief whatsoever, my dentist, who I’m sure was the real-life inspiration for Sweeny Todd, suggested I may have TMJ. Temporomandibular joint syndrome or lockjaw occurs when the muscles that open and close your mouth are irritated or get injured. That or you sucked on one too may rusty nails. Either way, the remedy is muscle relaxers so I tried them. They sure worked – to put me to sleep, that is. The pain still didn’t subside and that’s when it dawned on me – there’s a joint in my jaw. It was like a light bulb went on and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my RA was making my TMJ joint swell.
Long story short – I was right. I wanted to call my own demon dentist of main street and yell at him but since the jaw was still swollen – well, you get it. I lost two teeth because I didn’t know the jaw had a joint; it just wasn’t obvious unlike the last body part we are going to talk about. This one is pretty much all joints yet, for some reason, we never think of them as such. Of course, I’m talking about your hair!
Spine complications due to RA
It’s not your hair. If you believed that, I may have to revoke your RA membership card. I’m talking about your calcium xylophone, your proper-upper, your grisly ladder – your spine. Your spine, believe or not, is made up of over 150 joints. Just like you at trivia night, now that I’ve said it you are going “I totally knew that.” Why? Because it’s obvious once you think about it, right? Unfortunately, it’s not something that immediately dawns on you when it begins to hurt. It should, but it doesn’t. When I first started hurting, I thought that maybe it was all that kool-aid I ate straight from the jar and my liver was sending me an angry message. It didn’t help I was peeing tropical fruity red for a week. The pain didn’t stop after the off-color urine, though, so my next guess was that I had pulled a muscle playing golf. Then I remembered that I didn’t play golf or any sport because, well, I had RA, so I was stumped. It was only when my mother, keeper of the knowledge, said “It’s your illness; the back is a joint.”
“That’s an extremely clever insight and I believe you’re right.” …is what I should have said. Instead, it came out as “DUH! I know that. It’s the spinocirculnavigtory joint. Ish.” See, I know stuff. Once the light came on upstairs I realized it was my RA playing tricks on me yet again, and like the weird guy at work who pranks you at the most inappropriate times, no one was laughing. A swollen spine is just as awful as it sounds.
As you can see, RA affects so much more than just arms and legs. There are tons of nice, juicy, fresh joints for arthritis to sink it’s teeth into, and with RA you never know – it just might decide to try the heart or the liver for a change! Talk soon.
When was your last flare?