When rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs in the nerves, it can cause numbness and tingling.

In this article, we look at why RA causes these symptoms and how to alleviate them.

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RA is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation, mainly in the joints.

It can also affect other body tissues, including the nerves. Inflammation that affects the nerves or the surrounding tissues can trigger sensations of numbness and tingling.

Numbness and tingling are not common at the onset of RA. However, they may present as the disease progresses.

RA also has links with other conditions, including the below.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

There is a link between RA and carpal tunnel syndrome, a mild form of neuropathy involving nerve damage. The main symptom of carpal tunnel is numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers.

Peripheral neuropathy

Some people with RA who experience burning and tingling may have peripheral neuropathy. This affects the peripheral nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin, and internal organs.

Some causes of peripheral neuropathy in people with RA include:

  • nerve compression, sometimes resulting from rheumatoid nodules
  • vasculitis
  • drug toxicity
  • autoimmune issues

Sjögren’s disease

People with Sjögren’s disease may experience numbness or coldness when the peripheral nerves are inflamed. They could also present with symptoms such as dry mouth and dry eyes.

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy, a condition that affects the nerves controlling the internal organs, also has links with RA. In a 2016 study, researchers found that inflammatory molecules that indicated the condition were higher in people with RA when compared with the control group.

Spinal cord compression

RA can also cause spinal cord compression, which can lead to:

  • pain
  • numbness in the extremities
  • loss of sensation or weakness in the limbs and feet

Rheumatoid vasculitis

In rare cases, people with RA develop rheumatoid vasculitis (RV). This condition is a complication of RA that affects the body’s blood vessels, skin, and nerves. RV causes several symptoms, including numbness and tingling.

The numbness and tingling that develop with RA can occur in different areas of the body.

If the pain occurs in the wrist, a person might feel tingling and numbness in their hand and fingers. They may also feel pain. People with advanced RA may also experience a burning sensation.

People who have nerve damage may also experience the following sensations:

  • pins and needles
  • a prickling feeling in the skin
  • skin sensitivity
  • weakness

Physical activity is an important part of managing RA. Although it may be difficult for people with the condition to perform exercises during flare-ups, regular movement can help reduce symptoms and lessen the risk of complications.

Other forms of physical activity that encourage strengthening and stretching are also helpful for managing RA symptoms.

Examples of stretches include:

  • Toe touches: While standing or sitting, reach toward the toes while bending the knees.
  • Wrist stretches:
    1. Place hands on the floor while on all fours.
    2. Point the fingers toward the body.
    3. Gently stretch the wrists in this position.
  • Finger stretches: Bend and flex each finger on each hand.

A person may wish to adapt their exercise and stretching routines to their own needs. Try to perform stretches multiple times daily.

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy recommend people include the following types of exercise in their routines to reduce pain and improve muscle strength:

  • aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, and swimming
  • stretching
  • strength training
  • balance training

There is still no cure for RA. However, available therapies can help manage symptoms and slow the disease’s progression.

People with RA may wish to note that certain treatments may actually increase numbness and tingling.

An older study from 2014 found a link between antitumor necrosis factor therapy and adverse neurological events in people with the condition. Of those in the study, 30% had negative outcomes. Peripheral polyneuropathy was the most common adverse effect of the therapy, where multiple peripheral nerves become damaged.

Additional research suggests a variety of arthritis drugs may trigger neuropathy as a potential side effect.

If someone with RA experiences numbness and tingling in the wrist because of carpal tunnel syndrome, they can try wearing a wrist brace or avoid activities that aggravate symptoms.

A doctor may also prescribe steroid injections to relieve swelling from inflammation. In severe cases, surgery can release the trapped nerve and offer relief.

Treatments for carpal tunnel

People with RA who also have carpal tunnel syndrome can try the following home treatments:

  • applying ice packs to limit swelling
  • resting after performing repetitive hand and wrist movements
  • stretching fingers and wrists

A doctor may prescribe the following treatments for carpal tunnel:

  • a splint
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • yoga
  • corticosteroid injections
  • physical therapy

Treatments for neuropathy

Some treatment options for those with neuropathy include:

A doctor may also prescribe NSAIDs, topical medications, or antidepressants. Other drugs that may help with neuropathy-related pain include:

  • corticosteroids
  • intravenous immunoglobulin
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • mexiletine
  • opioids
  • gabapentin

Treatments for secondary Sjögren’s disease

Doctors treat secondary Sjögren’s disease with eye drops to create artificial wet tears. People may also use sprays, lozenges, and gels to help keep their mouths moist.

For pain symptoms associated with nerve damage, a doctor may prescribe analgesics.

RA can be a difficult condition to diagnose, but investigating the symptoms with the help of certain autoimmune markers can be helpful.

Early diagnosis is vital since early treatment can help slow the progression of RA. This can help limit further joint and neurologic damage.

If a person experiences numbness and tingling, they should speak with a doctor to rule out other causes of nerve damage.

Advanced forms of RA can affect parts of the body other than the joints, including the heart and lungs.

Some RA-related conditions that cause numbness and tingling are serious complications of the disease.

However, there are available treatments for RA. Individuals can also manage their symptoms with medications and lifestyle changes.

A person’s outlook depends on the stage of the disease and the severity of symptoms.

Often, it is not possible to reverse nerve damage. However, there are ways to limit related symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling. It is also possible to prevent it from getting worse.

Early diagnosis and treatment of RA can help lessen a person’s chance of developing complications and symptoms such as numbness and tingling.

RA can progress to a point where it causes nerve damage. Nerve damage, which is also known as neuropathy, causes numbness and tingling.

People with RA can have varying degrees of numbness and tingling, depending on the disease’s progression.

While these symptoms can occur because of RA, they are not unique to the condition.

People who feel numbness and tingling in their body should speak with a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and rule out other causes.