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Arthritis (Joint Pain) After Pregnancy: Causes And Tips To Manage

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Arthritis refers to joint pains that are usually associated with swelling, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Sometimes, the joints and muscles could be affected by the physical changes in pregnancy and may continue for weeks or months after pregnancy. If you have chronic arthritis, consulting your doctor and start taking your medications as directed would be helpful.

Read this MomJunction post to learn more about postpartum joint pain or arthritis and ways to manage it.

Is Arthritis Common After Pregnancy?

Arthritis is common in people of all ages. It may aggravate after pregnancy and a few women are likely to experience arthritis flare-ups for some time after delivery (1). They may have postpartum joint pains in their wrists, hands, ankles, and feet.

Causes Of Arthritis After Delivery

New mothers may have postpartum joint pains or arthritis for the following reasons.

  • During pregnancy, most autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, go into remission because of the vigorous antibody and cell-mediated immune responses. The symptoms may again flare up after pregnancy (2).
  • The immune system usually becomes stronger after pregnancy. The overactive immune system may lead to pre-existing allergies or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, or psoriatic arthritis (3).
  • Age, genetics, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, infections, occupation, and diet deficiencies may also lead to arthritis flare-ups during the postpartum period (4).

What Should You Do If You Have Postpartum Joint Pain or Arthritis?

Some measures that might help in managing and treating postpartum joint pain or arthritis are:

  1. See a doctor: Seek medical help if you already have arthritis. The doctor may give treatment to minimize pain, reduce joint damage, and improve the quality of life. You could only achieve them through regular follow-ups and by following the recommended treatment.
  1. Have a balanced diet: Work out a healthy diet plan with your nutritionist. Include low-calorie, low-fat foods, and plan your meals and snacks in a way that you are having a balanced diet.
  1. Manage your weight: Losing the excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight could be helpful if you have arthritis. It can lower the stress on joints, especially the hips and knees. Being overweight may also increase the risk of having arthritis.
  1. Stay active: Being physically active could relieve you from pain and improve your mood. It also decreases your chances of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
  1. Improve your self-management skills: You may join a self-management education program to learn skills to manage arthritis. It could help you gain control over your health, manage pain and its symptoms, reduce stress levels, improve mood, and communicate better with your doctor (5).
  1. Wear correct size comfortable footwear: Avoid high heels. Ensure the sole is soft and gives adequate cushioning.

Can You Get Rheumatoid Arthritis After Pregnancy?

There is a risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy. Although there is no substantial evidence to support this claim, there is a belief that complex hormonal and immune-related shifts occur during and after pregnancy.  This could be a plausible reason for an increase in the rate of rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy (6). However, pregnancy alone need not be a reason for getting RA, as other factors such as genetics play a more important role.

Does Breastfeeding Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?

Breastfeeding may not worsen rheumatoid arthritis. But some mothers with RA may have severe pain while holding the baby for breastfeeding.

Does Postpartum Arthritis Go Away?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, early treatment and a healthy lifestyle could help you manage the condition (7).And lead a near normal life.

If you have a history of arthritis or if it is genetic, then talk to a rheumatologist about its management during and after pregnancy. While postpartum joint pain or arthritis cannot be cured, you may take measures to manage it while following a healthy life style and taking a balanced diet.

References:

1. Pregnancy and Arthritis; Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine – University of Washington
2. Beagley KW and Gockle CM; Regulation of innate and adaptive immunity by the female sex hormones oestradiol and progesterone; FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol (2003).
3. Immune System; healthdirect – Australian Government – Department of Health
4. What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease; Johns Hopkins Medicine
5.5 Proven Ways to Manage Arthritis; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
6. Brittany Buening, Hendrickson S, and Smith C; Relationship between Pregnancy and Development of Autoimmune Diseases; Journal of Womens Health, Issues and Care (2017)
7. Treatment – Rheumatoid arthritis; NHS

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