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Can Arthritis Cause Neuropathic Pain?

Living with arthritis can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. The constant pain, swelling, fatigue, muscle stiffness, and sleep deprivation associated with arthritis can make it impossible to work or do the things you love.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis can severely impair your mobility and function and is one of the leading causes of physical disability in the nation, affecting nearly 60 million American adults.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a collective term for over 100 conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues throughout the body, leading to pain, stiffness, inflammation, swelling, joint disfigurement, and decreased range of motion. The two most commonly diagnosed types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Osteoarthritis (OA): Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions your joints breaks down over time due to wear and tear. This can lead to the bones in your joints rubbing against each other, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. OA is commonly associated with old age.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory and autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues surrounding the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

Other less common types of arthritis include gout, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus, to name a few. 

What is Neuropathic Pain?

Neuropathic pain is a type of chronic pain that develops when there is damage to the nervous system, whether from an injury, infection, or disease. This damage can interfere with the transmission and processing of pain signals, resulting in persistent pain that can be difficult to treat. 

Symptoms of neuropathic pain can vary depending on the underlying cause, but often include:

  • Burning or tingling sensations
  • Shooting or sharp stabbing pain
  • Aching or throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to touch or temperature changes
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Numbness, tingling, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensation

Exploring the Link Between Arthritis and Neuropathic Pain

Although arthritis and neuropathic pain often occur independently, there is a high co-occurrence rate between the two conditions, with as many as 85 percent of patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis experiencing neuropathic pain.

Although there is no clear-cut link between the two conditions, there are a few potential explanations for the high rate of comorbidity as outlined below:

Inflammation: To begin with, the inflammation and swelling associated with arthritis can damage or irritate the nerve fibers surrounding the affected joints, triggering the onset of neuropathic pain.

Bone Spurs: Another possible explanation is that the wear and tear that occurs on the joints in patients with osteoarthritis can lead to the formation of bone spurs, which may compress or pinch the nerves near the joint.

Joint disfiguration: The joint damage and disfigurement seen in some patients with arthritis can also compress or exert pressure on nearby nerves, leading to the development of neuropathic pain.

Medication: Last but not least, some medications used for arthritis treatment may also trigger neuropathic pain. For instance, corticosteroids – commonly used to reduce inflammation and swelling in patients with arthritis, may irritate or damage nerves in the body.

The Takeaway

Arthritis is a complex disease and a public health menace that can lead to long-term complications like chronic neuropathic pain. While there is no cure for arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the progression of the disease and minimize the risk of developing complications like neuropathic pain.

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