Treatment For Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes joints to become chronically inflamed. Unlike wear-and-tear damage caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, resulting in painful swelling that can develop into bone erosion, joint deformity and decreased hand function.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

The immune system ordinarily makes antibodies that attack bacteria and viruses, helping to fight infection. Rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system starts to attack the lining of the joints. What triggers this attack is unknown. When this attack happens, the joints become inflamed and often very painful. As there are 25 joints in each hand, they are particularly susceptible to this condition.

Fortunately, modern anti rheumatoid drugs have revolutionised the treatment of this relatively common condition and surgery is much less frequently required. However, there are times when surgery can help to relieve pain and improve function. 

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

The finger joints often become swollen and painful, and some patients experience a creaking sound when moving certain digits. Sometimes fingers can become disfigured, click when they are bent and can become stuck in particular positions. The joints generally feel stiff and sore. Tingling and numbness in the fingers is also fairly common.

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis

Your consultant will examine your joints and possibly conduct a full physical examination to determine if further joints could be affected in the near future. You may also require x-rays.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Non-surgical treatment

There a number of oral and injectable medications that can be used to reduce swelling and project the finger joints against further injury. Steroid injections are sometimes helpful to manage a flare up of this condition. Custom made splints and hand therapy can also help improve function.

Surgical treatment

Rheumatoid surgery may be required if all non-surgical options have been exhausted. If the joints are very painful, stiff or deformed, they may be in need of surgical repair. The aim would be to reduce pain and improve hand function. Surgery can also be very effective to fuse or replace a joint.

Treatment options

The One Orthopaedics team specialists

Peter Magnussen

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon FRCS (Tr&Orth), Hand and Wrist


Anthony Hearnden

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon FRCS (Tr&Orth), Shoulder, Elbow, Hand and Wrist


James Logan

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon FRCS (Tr&Orth), Elbow, Hand and Wrist