Tendons, Ligaments, and Muscles Affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis
What is a Tendon?
A tendon is a tough band of fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone or muscle to muscle. Also referred to as a sinew, it is made to withstand tension. It works in conjunction with the muscle to exert pulling force.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis affects Tendons
If rheumatoid arthritis is not diagnosed and treated early, then, over time, it can cause significant damage to joints, leading to deformity and disability. Hands and wrists are the most common location for these deformities. As tendons also become inflamed, they result in rupture or ulnar drift.
- Rupture. Tendons may break, and depending on which tendon does, it may be impossible to straighten or bend the finger. Tendon loosening due to inflammation of the joints is also frequently seen in RA patients.
- Ulnar Drift. Tendons and ligaments may be moved out of position due to swelling of the joints. This causes ulnar drift: the fingers bend toward the pinky finger.
What Is a Ligament?
A ligament is the fibrous and somewhat stretchy tissue that connects one bone to another in the body, forming a joint. Ligaments control the joint's range of motion and stabilize the joint so that the bones move in the correct alignment.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Ligaments
Rheumatoid arthritis causes the synovial lining of the joints to swell and become inflamed. This lining is invaded by white blood cells which fire off a variety of destructive chemicals. These chemicals lead to the erosion of cartilage, bone, and ligaments. Movement of the joint then becomes severely impaired.
What Is a Muscle?
Muscle is the contractile tissue of the body which produces force and causes motion. Muscles are classified into two main groups: involuntary and voluntary. Skeletal muscles are voluntary, affect movement and locomotion, and are held to bones by tendons.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects muscles
Just as the inflammation of the synovial lining degrades tendons and ligaments, it can do the same to local muscles. Muscle soreness and stiffness is an oft-reported symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. This condition can also cause muscles to spasm. Although, in the past, doctors feared that exercise would cause the inflammation to worsen, light exercise is widely recommended today. Not only is exercise essential for vitality, strengthening the muscles near the affected joints may help you retain motion in them.
What Can I Do to Protect My Tendons, Ligaments, and Muscles?
There is nothing that can undo the damage that is already done to your joints and surrounding tissues. You can prevent it from becoming worse by noticing the disease in its early stages and seeing your rheumatologist. After you discuss treatment options with him, there are self-care measures you can take (e.g. exercise) that can assist in halting the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.